Turkey shelves Syrian offensive after Russian objection

Turkish-backed Syrian rebel fighters parade in Aleppo province on July 2, 2022. Turkey has postponed its planned new offensive against Kurdish forces because of Russia's objections. (AFP)
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Updated 02 July 2022

Turkey shelves Syrian offensive after Russian objection

  • Regional actors voice concerns over potential military operation in Tal Rifaat and Manbij 
  • “No need for hurry. We don’t need to do that,” Turkish President Erdogan told journalists in Madrid

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey is in no rush to stage a new military operation against armed Kurdish militants.

But regional actors have voiced their concerns over the potential Turkish offensive against the towns of Tal Rifaat and Manbij.

“No need for hurry. We don’t need to do that,” Erdogan told journalists in Madrid, where he met with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the NATO summit. Erdogan offered no timeline for the planned operation.

The stakes are high. Experts believe that Turkey still lacks Russian backing for a military intervention against Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara considers to be a terror group with direct links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Oytun Orhan, coordinator of Syria studies at the ORSAM think tank in Ankara, said that Russia’s failure to back the operation remains its major obstacle.

“Ankara decided to launch a military offensive on Syria while the world’s attention is focused on the war in Ukraine — and after thousands of Russian troops withdrew from Ukraine. However, Russia cannot risk looking weak in both Ukraine or Syria by giving the greenlight to a Turkish operation now,” he told Arab News.

Orhan noted that Turkey only hit targets along the Turkish-Syrian border as retaliation against attacks by the YPG.

“I don’t expect a larger-scale operation in which the Syrian National Army would serve as ground forces and the Turkish military would give aerial support,” he said.

Ankara has previously conducted three military operations in the area: Euphrates Shield in 2016, Olive Branch in 2018, and Peace Spring in 2019.

Troop numbers from both Russia and the Syrian regime have been increasing in northern Syria since early June ahead of a potential Turkish operation.

Iran has also been very vocal in its opposition of any Turkish military operation in the area.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saaed Khatibzadeh recently said: “The Syria file is a matter of dispute between us and Turkey.”

On Saturday, Iran’s foreign minister paid a visit to Damascus following Turkey’s threats to launch the new offensive.

“Both from an ideological and strategic perspective, Iran accords importance to protecting Shiite settlements — especially the two Shiite towns of Nubl and Al-Zahra. And there are also some Shiite militia fighting along with the YPG in Tal Rifaat,” Orhan said.

“However, at this point, Russia’s position is much more (important to Turkey) than Iran’s concerns, because Russia controls the airspace in northern Syria and it would have to withdraw Russian forces before approving any Turkish operation,” he added.

Some experts have suggested that Turkey used its potential Syria operation as a bargaining chip during its recent negotiations with Washington. When Erdogan met Biden on June 29, they discussed the importance of maintaining stability in Syria, according to the White House readout.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), mainly led by the YPG, still holds large areas of northeast Syria. Syrian Kurds are regarded by Washington as an important ally against Daesh.

Although the Biden administration has repeatedly said that it acknowledges Turkey’s security concerns, it has also warned that any Turkish operation in northern Syria could put US troops at risk, and undermine the fight against Daesh.

Hamidreza Azizi, CATS fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, thinks that, given the course of events, the Turkish operation is inevitable.

“It (will) happen sooner or later. Because Turkish leaders have been maneuvering on what they see as threats Turkey is facing from northern Syria, we should expect some kind of military operation,” he told Arab News.

“But the scope of the operation has been a matter of speculation because, in the beginning, Turkish officials were talking about a vast area from Tal Rifaat and Manbij to east of the Euphrates, but they reconsidered after US opposition to the expansion of the operation east of the Euphrates,” Azizi said.

Azizi expects a limited operation to happen, the main aim of which would be to expand Turkey’s zone of influence in the area.

Turkey’s original plan had been to establish a 30 kilometer-deep security zone along its southern border both to push back the YPG and to repatriate around 1 million Syrian refugees in a wider safe zone.

President Erdogan recently announced a reconstruction plan to enable Syrians to return to their homeland.

Azizi believes that “the main friction” over this potential operation would be between Iran and Turkey.

“Iran is worried because if Turkey — or Turkish-backed troops — control Tal Rifaat, they have access to Aleppo, where Iran is present, which will give them further access to central Syria.”

Iran is still a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, but also an important trade partner for Turkey.

Unless Turkey is able to come up with a new plan that alleviates Iran’s concerns, Azizi expects a response from the Iranian side — albeit an indirect one via proxy forces.

“Such a move could push Turkey to further strengthen ties with Arab states and cooperate further with Israel,” he said.

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EU pushes to impose Iran sanctions over Mahsa Amini ‘killing’

Updated 04 October 2022

EU pushes to impose Iran sanctions over Mahsa Amini ‘killing’

  • Rights groups voiced concern after riot police used tear gas and paintball guns against students at Tehran’s Sharif University of Technology on Sunday night
  • Video footage showed detainees being taken away with fabric hoods over their heads

PARIS: The European Union said Tuesday it was weighing tough new sanctions on Iran over a lethal crackdown on protests sparked by the “killing” of Mahsa Amini, after a similar move by the United States.
Amini, 22, was pronounced dead on September 16, days after the notorious morality police detained the Kurdish Iranian for allegedly breaching rules requiring women to wear hijab headscarves and modest clothes.
Anger over her death has sparked the biggest wave of protests to rock Iran in almost three years and a crackdown that has seen scores of protesters killed and hundreds arrested.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc was considering “all the options at our disposal, including restrictive measures, to address the killing of Mahsa Amini and the way Iranian security forces have been responding to the demonstrations.”
It came after President Joe Biden said the United States would impose “further costs” this week on “perpetrators of violence against peaceful protesters” in Iran.
Rights groups voiced deep concern after Iranian riot police used tear gas and paintball guns against hundreds of students at Tehran’s Sharif University of Technology on Sunday night, with video footage showing detainees being taken away with fabric hoods over their heads.
Protests also spread to schools, with video footage shared by Kurdish rights group Hengaw showing schoolgirls demonstrating in two cities in Amini’s native Kurdistan province.
“Women, Life, Freedom,” the young female protesters chanted as they marched down the central strip of a busy highway in Marivan, in footage that AFP has not independently verified.

Biden gave no indication of what measures he was considering against Iran, which is already under crippling US economic sanctions largely related to its controversial nuclear program.
Iran on Tuesday accused the US leader of “hypocrisy” in invoking human rights to impose fresh punitive measures.
“It would have been better for Mr.Joe Biden to think a little about the human rights record of his own country before making humanitarian gestures, although hypocrisy does not need to be thought through,” foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said in an Instagram post, reported by Iranian media.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had on Monday accused arch foes the United States and Israel of fomenting the protests.
The riots “were engineered by America and the occupying, false Zionist regime, as well as their paid agents, with the help of some traitorous Iranians abroad,” Khamenei said.

The unrest has overshadowed diplomatic efforts to revive a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers which had come close to a breakthrough in recent months before stalling again.
But White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stressed the “problems with Iran’s behavior” are separate from efforts to revive the nuclear deal, which Washington will pursue “as long as we believe” it is in US national security interests.
In his first public comments on Amini’s death, 83-year-old Khamenei stressed on Monday that Iranian police must “stand up to criminals.”
Khamenei said “some people, without proof or an investigation, have made the streets dangerous, burned the Qur'an, removed hijabs from veiled women and set fire to mosques and cars.”
He added that “this is not about hijab in Iran,” and that “many Iranian women who don’t observe the hijab perfectly are among the steadfast supporters of the Islamic republic.”
On Tuesday, an official said singer Shervin Hajjipour — arrested after his song “Baraye” (“For“), with lyrics taken from social media posts about the reasons people were protesting, went viral — had been released on bail.
Another 400 people arrested in the crackdown were released Tuesday “on condition of not repeating their actions,” Tehran prosecutor Ali Salehi said, quoted by state news agency IRNA.
Iran has repeatedly accused outside forces of stoking the protests and last week said nine foreign nationals — including from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland — had been arrested.
At least 92 protesters have been killed so far in the Mahsa Amini rallies, said Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights, which has been working to assess the death toll despite Internet outages and blocks on WhatsApp, Instagram and other online services.
Amnesty International said earlier it had confirmed 53 deaths, after Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency said last week that “around 60” people had died.
At least 12 members of the security forces have been reported killed since September 16.

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Iranian singer arrested during Amini protests released

Updated 04 October 2022

Iranian singer arrested during Amini protests released

  • Hajjipour rose to fame for the song “Baraye,” “For,” in which he put together messages posted on Twitter about the reasons for protests

TEHRAN: Iranian singer Shervin Hajjipour, arrested after his song in support of protests over the death of Mahsa Amini went viral, has been released on bail, an official said Tuesday.
A wave of unrest has rocked Iran since the 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman died on September 16 after her arrest by the morality police in Tehran for allegedly failing to observe the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women.
The street violence has led to the deaths of dozens of people — mostly protesters but also members of the security forces — and hundreds of arrests.
“Shervin Hajji Aghapour has been released on bail so that his case can go through the legal process,” Mohammad Karimi, prosecutor of the northern province of Mazandaran told Iran’s state news agency IRNA.
Rights groups outside of Iran reported his arrest last week.
Hajjipour, a 25-year-old pop singer and songwriter, rose to fame for the song “Baraye,” “For,” in which he put together messages posted on Twitter about the reasons for protests.
The emotional performance became a viral hit on different social media platforms, with millions of views within days.
It is no longer available on his Instagram account, which currently has more than 1.7 million followers.
The song featured in many videos of protests on social media, and also made its way to local media.
The ultra-conservative Tasnim news agency published its own version of the video clip, keeping Hajjipour’s voice, while changing the accompanying images into ones showing the Islamic republic’s achievements.
The agency said that its video, posted Sunday on Telegram, is meant to show “more realistic concepts of what is happening in the media battlefield,” by using “more meaningful pictures.”
Tasnim on Tuesday said Hajjipour was arrested “for showing support for the rioters and solidarity with the enemies by posting the song in social media without getting permission for it.”

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UNRWA director visits Jenin refugee camp days after Israeli assault

Updated 04 October 2022

UNRWA director visits Jenin refugee camp days after Israeli assault

  • Adam Bouloukos said: ‘I witnessed the extent of the damage caused by the recent Israeli military operation. I saw fear and concern in school children’s eyes’
  • He added that the current level of violence in the camp, and across the West Bank, is at the highest level the agency has seen in years

JERUSALEM: Adam Bouloukos, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East’s director in the West Bank, has visited Jenin refugee camp, the Palestine News and Info Agency reported on Monday.

His visit came just days after a large-scale Israeli military assault on the camp last Wednesday that left four people dead and 44 injured.

During his visit to the camp, Bouloukos was shown an UNRWA clinic that was hit by bullets during the attack, which took place while patients and medical staff were inside. It provides healthcare services to about 35,000 people. He also visited a UNRWA school, where he met students and teachers.

“I witnessed the extent of the damage caused by the recent Israeli military operation,” Bouloukos said. “I saw fear and concern in schoolchildren’s eyes.

“The level of violence in Jenin camp, and across the West Bank, is the highest we have seen in years. Many Palestinians, including refugees, were killed or injured. Violence only brings loss of life, grief for families and instability.

“All parties to the conflict should protect civilians, including Palestine refugees. UN staff and facilities and civilian infrastructure must be kept out of harm’s way. I specifically call on the Israeli security forces to limit the use of excessive force and spare the loss of civilian life in Jenin and across the West Bank.”

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Egyptian Presidential Pardon Committee releases 50 pretrial detainees

Updated 03 October 2022

Egyptian Presidential Pardon Committee releases 50 pretrial detainees

  • The legal moves have continued as the government and various political forces in the country prepare for a wide-ranging national conversation on political, economic, and social issues

CAIRO: Egypt’s Presidential Pardon Committee has announced the release of 50 pretrial detainees.
The committee said that it had completed its procedures in coordination with the relevant agencies to release a new batch of detainees who are not involved in violence and do not belong to terrorist groups.
The committee confirmed in a statement the continuation of its work during the coming period in containing and integrating the released persons in accordance with the directives of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, which are implemented in coordination with state agencies and institutions.
The names of the list were announced on Twitter by MP Tarek El-Khouly, a member of the committee, which included 50 detainees who received a presidential pardon.
The committee also confirmed its aspiration for more releases.
Tariq Al-Awadi, a member of the committee, said: “We hope to speed up the pace of consideration of the remaining detainees, close this file permanently, and turn this page completely.”
Al-Awadi continued: “All that concerns me is the release of all those imprisoned in opinion cases, and I am not interested in who or what the reason for their release was.”
Last September, Egypt ordered the release of 39 pretrial detainees.
The legal moves have continued as the government and various political forces in the country prepare for a wide-ranging national conversation on political, economic, and social issues.
The committee was one of the outcomes of the first National Youth Conference in 2016, where Egyptian youth addressed government leaders with presidential engagement.
In April this year, El-Sisi said during his speech at the Egyptian Family Iftar that he would reactivate the work of the Presidential Pardon Committee that was formed as one of the outcomes of the conference.
Since the committee’s formation in 2016, a variety of political parties and organizations, including the National Council for Human Rights and parliament’s Human Rights Committee, have submitted the names of prisoners who are eligible for presidential pardon consideration.

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UK summons Iran’s top diplomat in Britain over crackdown on protests

Updated 03 October 2022

UK summons Iran’s top diplomat in Britain over crackdown on protests

  • “The violence levelled at protesters in Iran by the security forces is truly shocking”: British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly
  •  The White House also denounced the crackdown by Iranian security forces against peaceful protests in Iran

LONDON: Britain’s foreign ministry on Monday said it had summoned the Iranian charge d’affaires, Iran’s most senior diplomat in Britain, over the crackdown on protests following the death of Mahsa Amini in custody.
“The violence levelled at protesters in Iran by the security forces is truly shocking,” British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said.
“Today we have made our view clear to the Iranian authorities – instead of blaming external actors for the unrest, they should take responsibility for their actions and listen to the concerns of their people.”

The White House on Monday denounced the crackdown by Iranian security forces against peaceful protests in Iran, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.
“We’re alarmed and appalled by reports of security authorities’ responding to university students’ peaceful protests with violence and mass arrests,” she told reporters traveling with President Joe Biden to Puerto Rico.

Jean-Pierre said university students in Iran are “rightly enraged” by her death and that the weekend crackdowns are the type of events that prompt young people in Iran to leave the country “and seek dignity and opportunity elsewhere.”