Netanyahu on US threat to withhold arms: Israel will fight with its ‘fingernails’ if needed

Biden said US would not provide offensive weapons for a Rafah offensive, raising pressure on Netanyahu. (AFP)
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Updated 10 May 2024

Netanyahu on US threat to withhold arms: Israel will fight with its ‘fingernails’ if needed

  • Israel says Rafah is the last stronghold of Hamas
  • Aid groups say a Rafah invasion would be catastrophic

JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that a US threat to withhold some arms would not prevent Israel from continuing its offensive in Gaza, indicating it might proceed with an invasion of the packed city of Rafah against the wishes of its closest ally.

President Joe Biden has urged Israel not to go ahead with such an operation over fears it would exacerbate the humanitarian catastrophe in the Palestinian enclave. On Wednesday, he said the United States would not provide offensive weapons for a Rafah offensive, raising pressure on Netanyahu.

But in a statement released Thursday, Netanyahu said “if we have to stand alone, we will stand alone. If we need to, we will fight with our fingernails. But we have much more than fingernails.”
Israel’s top military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, also appeared to downplay the practical impact of any arms holdup. “The army has munitions for the missions it plans, and for the missions in Rafah, too — we have what we need,” he said in response to a question at a news conference.
Israel has repeatedly threatened to invade Rafah, where some 1.3 million Palestinians — over half the population — have sought refuge. The city in southern Gaza is also the main hub for humanitarian operations, which have been severely hindered by the closure of Gaza’s two main crossings this week.
Israel says Rafah is the last stronghold of Hamas and that the army must go in if it hopes to dismantle the group and return scores of hostages captured in the Oct. 7 attack that triggered the war.
In an earlier response to Biden’s decision, Israel’s far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir wrote a post on the platform X with a heart between the words “Hamas” and “Biden.” He and other ultra-nationalist members of Netanyahu’s coalition support a large-scale Rafah operation and have threatened to bring down his government if it doesn’t happen.
Aid groups say a Rafah invasion would be catastrophic. The UN says most of the territory’s 2.3 million Palestinians suffer from hunger and that northern Gaza is already experiencing “full-blown famine.”
Even the limited operation Israel launched earlier this week, in which a tank brigade captured the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, has thrown humanitarian operations into crisis.
It also complicated what had been months of efforts by the US, Qatar and Egypt to broker a ceasefire and the release of hostages. Hamas this week said it had accepted an Egyptian-Qatari ceasefire proposal, but Israel says the plan does not meet its “core” demands. Several days of follow-up talks appeared to end inconclusively on Thursday.
Some analysts said Biden’s tough line against Israel, and the rift between the allies, threatened to weaken Israel’s negotiating position and harden Hamas’ stances. Hamas has demanded guarantees for an end to the war and a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza as part of any deal — steps Israel has ruled out.
“It sends a discordant message at a time when Hamas is holding out on a hostage deal in the hopes that pressure will grow on Israel and it will gain a ceasefire without having to give anything in return,” said the Israel Policy Forum, a pro-Israel organization based in New York.
The war began with Hamas’ surprise attack into southern Israel, in which it killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took another 250 hostage. The militants are still holding some 100 captives and the remains of more than 30 after most of the rest were released during a ceasefire last year.
The war has killed over 34,800 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Israel’s offensive, waged with US-supplied munitions, has caused widespread devastation and forced some 80 percent of Gaza’s population to flee their homes.
Israel’s capture of the Rafah crossing Tuesday forced the closure of a key entry point for fuel, and it’s unclear when it will reopen. The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, said it only has enough stocks to maintain operations for a few days and has started rationing.
Israel reopened its side of the nearby Kerem Shalom crossing — Gaza’s main cargo terminal — after a rocket attack over the weekend, but UNRWA, the main provider of aid in Gaza, says aid cannot be brought in on the Palestinian side because of the security situation.
A recently reopened route in the north is still functioning, but only 60 trucks entered on Tuesday, far below the 500 that entered Gaza each day before the war.
The first aid ship bound for an American-built floating pier to be installed in Gaza departed early Thursday. But it’s unclear when that corridor will be up and running, and even then it won’t be able to handle as much aid as Gaza’s two main land crossings.
Maj. Pete Nguyen, a Pentagon spokesman, said Thursday that parts of the pier are still in the Israeli port of Ashdod awaiting more favorable seas before being moved into position off Gaza. He said the US vessel Sagamore, which left Cyprus, would transport aid to another ship, the Roy P. Benavidez, which is off the coast of Gaza.
“In the coming days, the US will commence an international community-backed effort to expand the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza using a floating pier,” he said.

Israel’s Netanyahu walks political tightrope on Washington trip following Biden’s exit from race

Updated 30 sec ago

Israel’s Netanyahu walks political tightrope on Washington trip following Biden’s exit from race

  • Some Democrats will likely demonstrate their anger toward Biden and Netanyahu by skipping Wednesday’s speech

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads to Washington on Monday, leaving behind a brutal war to make a politically precarious speech before Congress at a time of great uncertainty following Joe Biden’s withdrawal from the presidential race.
With efforts ongoing to bring about a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, rising concerns about the war spreading to Lebanon and Yemen, and the US in the midst of a dizzying election campaign, Netanyahu’s speech has the potential to cause disarray on both sides of the ocean.
The risks only increased with Biden’s decision Sunday to drop out of the race for president, especially since the choice of a replacement Democratic nominee — and the potential next American leader — are still up in the air.
A person familiar with Biden’s schedule confirmed Sunday that the president will host Netanyahu at the White House. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly, said the exact timing of the meeting has not been established because Biden is recovering from COVID-19.
Netanyahu is scheduled to address Congress on Wednesday. He is also expected to meet with Vice President Kamala Harris, who is seeking the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.
An official in Netanyahu’s office confirmed that the Israeli leader was set to travel to Washington on Monday. The official also spoke on condition of anonymity pending a formal announcement.
Netanyahu will deliver his congressional address with an eye on several audiences: his ultranationalist governing partners, the key to his political survival; the Biden administration, which Netanyahu counts on for diplomatic and military support; and Donald Trump’s Republican Party, which could offer Netanyahu a reset in relations if he is reelected in November.
His words risk angering any one of those constituencies, which the Israeli leader cannot afford if he hopes to hold on to his tenuous grip on power.
“There are a few land mines and pitfalls on this trip,” Eytan Gilboa, an expert on US-Israel relations at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, said before Biden’s withdrawal. “He is thought of as a political wizard who knows how to escape from traps. I am not sure he still knows how to do that.”
It is Netanyahu’s fourth speech to Congress — more than any other world leader. During his address, his far-right governing partners will want to hear his resolve to continue the war and topple Hamas.
The Biden administration will look for progress toward the latest US-backed ceasefire proposal and details on a postwar vision. Republicans hope Netanyahu besmirches Biden and bolsters the GOP’s hoped-for perception as Israel’s stalwart supporter.
Upon receiving the invitation, Netanyahu said he would “present the truth about our just war against those who seek to destroy us.”
The war, which was sparked by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel, has tested Israel’s ties with its top ally as never before.
The Biden administration has stood staunchly beside Israel. But it has grown increasingly alarmed about the conduct of the Israeli military, the continued difficulties of getting humanitarian aid into Gaza, especially after the short-lived US military pier off Gaza coast, as well as Israel’s lack of postwar plans and the harm to civilians in Gaza. Similar concerns will likely persist if Americans elect a new Democratic president.
Biden earlier this year froze the delivery of certain bombs over fears they would be used in Israel’s incursion into the southern Gaza city of Rafah, which at the time sheltered more than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million.
The US abstained from a United Nations Security Council vote in March that called for a ceasefire and the release of hostages but did not link the two. Netanyahu called the decision a “retreat” from a “principled position” by Israel’s ally.
Biden has had to walk a fine line of his own. He has faced harsh criticism from progressive Democrats and many Arab Americans. Even Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the highest-ranking elected US Jewish official, lambasted Netanyahu in March for his handling of the war.
Some Democrats will likely demonstrate their anger toward Biden and Netanyahu by skipping Wednesday’s speech. Netanyahu is also likely to be hounded by pro-Palestinian activists during his trip.
The last time Netanyahu spoke to Congress in 2015 was at the invitation of the Republican Party. The trip drove Israeli-American politics deep into the partisan divide as Netanyahu railed against then-President Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal.
Netanyahu has not shied away from making Israel a partisan issue. With his nationalist conservative ideology, he has been perceived as throwing his support behind Republican candidates in the past, rankling Democrats and Israelis who want to keep the US-Israel relationship bipartisan.
It’s unclear if he will meet Trump. If there is a meeting, it could expose Netanyahu to accusations that he is once again taking sides. But if he doesn’t meet with Trump, the former president could feel slighted.
The speech also offers Netanyahu opportunity. He will be able to show Israelis that despite the tensions with the Biden administration, US support for him remains ironclad.
“He wants the Israeli public to believe that he is very much still very welcome in the United States. And this shows that the American people are with him,” said David Makovsky, director of the program on Arab-Israel Relations at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
For critics of Netanyahu, that embrace is unacceptable and grants legitimacy to a deeply polarizing leader whose public support has plummeted. Netanyahu faces widespread protests and calls to resign over the failures of Oct. 7 and his handling of the war.
In a letter to Congress, 500 Israeli writers, scholars and public figures expressed their dismay over the invitation to Netanyahu, saying he will use the platform to advance misguided policies that align with his far-right governing partners.
“His only interest is preserving his own power,” they wrote. “Does the United States Congress wish to support such a model of cynical and manipulative leadership in these times?”
Israeli media reported that Netanyahu will be joined by rescued hostage Noa Argamani and her father. But for many of the families of hostages held in Gaza, the trip is an affront.
“This is not the time for trips,” Ayelet Levy Shachar, whose daughter Naama was kidnapped on Oct. 7, told reporters.
“Netanyahu: First a deal, then you can travel.”

Iran condemns Israeli attack on Yemen’s Hodeidah port

Updated 16 min 50 sec ago

Iran condemns Israeli attack on Yemen’s Hodeidah port

  • Kanani added that Israel and its supporters, including the United States, were “directly responsible for the dangerous and unpredictable consequences of the continued crimes in Gaza, as well as the attacks on Yemen”

TEHRAN: Iran has condemned Israel’s deadly retaliatory strike on the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeidah in Yemen that the rebels say killed six people and wounded dozens more.
Late on Saturday, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani “strongly condemned” the attack saying it was “an expression of the aggressive behavior of the child-killing Israeli regime“
Israeli warplanes on Saturday struck the vital port of Hodeidah in response to a deadly drone attack by the Iran-backed Houthis on Tel Aviv, which killed one civilian.
The Houthi rebels have since threatened a “huge” retaliation against Israel.
Kanani added that Israel and its supporters, including the United States, were “directly responsible for the dangerous and unpredictable consequences of the continued crimes in Gaza, as well as the attacks on Yemen.”
Regional tensions have soared since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October, drawing in Iran-backed militant groups in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen.
Yemen’s Houthi rebels, along with the Hezbollah group in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza are part of a Tehran-aligned “axis of resistance” against Israel and its allies.
The Islamic republic has reiterated support for the groups but insisted they were independent in their decision-making and actions.


Insect infestation ravages North African prickly pear

Updated 12 min 3 sec ago

Insect infestation ravages North African prickly pear

  • Tunisian authorities estimate that about 150,000 families make a living from cultivating Opuntia
  • Prickly pear is consumed as food and used to make oils, cosmetics and body-care products

CHEBIKA, Tunisia: Amor Nouira, a farmer in Tunisia’s Chebika village, has lost hope of saving his prickly pear cacti, ravaged by the cochineal insect spreading across North Africa.
The 50-year-old has seen his half-hectare of cactus crops wither as the invasive insect wreaked havoc on about a third of the country’s cacti after an outbreak in 2021.
“At first, I wanted to experiment with prickly pear production and gradually develop investments while looking for customers outside the country, especially for its natural oil,” said Nouira.

A member of the Dar Si Hmad Foundation inspects prickly pear cacti affected by cochineals in the Sidi Ifni region along central Morocco's Atlantic coast on June 29, 2024. (AFP)

“But... as the cacti became damaged, I abandoned the idea of investing and stopped thinking about it altogether.”
Prickly pear is consumed as food and used to make oils, cosmetics and body-care products.
In Chebika, as in other rural areas in central Tunisia, many farmers’ fields of prickly pear — also known as Opuntia — have been spoiled by the cochineal, which swept through North Africa 10 years ago, beginning in Morocco.

A trident lady beetle (Hyperaspis trifurcata) eats cochineal insects on a prickly pear cactus leaf in the Sidi Ifni region along central Morocco's Atlantic coast on June 29, 2024. (AFP)

The insect, like the prickly pear, is native to the Americas and feeds on the plant’s nutrients and fluids, often killing it.
The infestations have resulted in significant economic losses for thousands of farmers reliant on prickly pear, as authorities struggle to combat the epidemic in a country where its fruit is widely consumed as a summertime snack.

Tunisian authorities estimate that about 150,000 families make a living from cultivating Opuntia.

A member of the Dar Si Hmad Foundation sprays prickly pear cacti affected by cochineals in the Sidi Ifni region along central Morocco's Atlantic coast on June 30, 2024. (AFP)

The North African country is the world’s second-largest producer of its fruit, after Mexico, with about 600,000 hectares of crops and a yield of about 550,000 tons per year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Only production allocated for export — about a third of overall crops — has remained in good condition, said Rabeh Hajjlaoui, head of the department of plant health at Tunisia’s agriculture ministry.
“We’re making every effort to save these plants, which are an important source of income to some locals,” he explained, as one liter of extracted Opuntia oil can be sold for as much as $4,200.
Farmers also plant prickly pear cacti for their resistance to drought and desertification, and sometimes use them to demarcate and fence property in Tunisia and neighboring Libya.
In Morocco, where the first cases of cochineal were found in 2014, Opuntia is cultivated over a total of 160,000 hectares.
In 2016, the Moroccan government issued an “emergency plan” to combat cochineal infestation by experimenting with various chemicals, burying infected cacti and conducting research on developing variants resilient to the insect.
Despite the plan, by August 2022, about 75 percent of Opuntia crops in Morocco had been infested, according to Mohamed Sbaghi, a professor at Rabat’s National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRA) and the emergency plan coordinator.
In neighboring Algeria, authorities recorded an outbreak in 2021 in Tlemcen, a city near the border with Morocco.
Prickly pear cultivation in the country covers around 60,000 hectares, and the fruit is so cherished that a festival dedicated to it is held every year in the eastern Kabylia region.

Neither the plant nor cochineal is native to North Africa, but the region’s dry climate helped them spread, said Tunisian entomologist Brahim Chermiti.
“Climate change, with increasing drought and high temperatures, facilitates their reproduction,” he told AFP.
The region has experienced severe drought in recent years, with declining rainfall and intense heat.
Chermiti believes it’s a matter of “public safety” to combat cochineal infestation, requiring “strict border crossing monitoring and public awareness.”
The researcher fears total contagion, as “sooner or later, it will spread, with the help of many factors such as the wind and livestock.”
Hajjlaoui, from Tunisia’s agriculture ministry, said the issue could even cause social unrest if it spreads to farms in marginalized areas, such as Tunisia’s Kasserine governorate, where Opuntia is nearly the only source of livelihood for many.
He said the “slowness of administrative procedure” during the first major outbreaks in Tunisia impeded efforts to stem the spread of cochineal.
At first, Morocco and Tunisia burned and uprooted infected crops, but authorities now aim for “natural resistance” to the insect, said Hajjlaoui.
Last summer, Morocco’s INRA said it identified eight cochineal-resistant Opuntia varieties that could potentially be cultivated.
The other solution, added the expert, is spreading the Hyperaspis trifurcata ladybird — also native to the Americas — among the cacti, which preys on cochineal.
In Morocco, farmers began raising the ladybird “so that it is always ready” in case of outbreaks, said Aissa Derhem, head of the environmental association Dar Si Hmad.
Last month, Tunisia received 100 ladybirds along with an emergency budget of $500,000 to battle cochineal, allocated by the FAO.


Five things to know about Turkiye’s interests in Africa

Updated 54 min 21 sec ago

Five things to know about Turkiye’s interests in Africa

  • Turkiye has accumulated considerable soft power in the region, notably through education, the media and its shared religion with Africa’s many Muslim countries
  • Turkiye has signed defense agreements with a number of states spanning the breadth of the continent, including Somalia, Libya, Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Ghana

ISTANBUL: Turkiye is pushing for diplomatic and economic influence on the world stage — not least in Africa, where it announced plans this week to search for oil and gas off Somalia.
Over President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s two decades in power, Ankara has consolidated its foothold on the continent, quadrupling its number of embassies there.
Here are five of Turkiye’s diplomatic and economic interests and strategies in Africa:

At a time when many African countries are turning away from their former colonial rulers, Turkiye has looked to fill the void left behind.
“Erdogan presents himself as an alternative to the West,” said Selin Gucum, author of a study on Turkish interests in Africa for Paris’s Observatory of Contemporary Turkiye.
Gucum told AFP that Ankara often emphasizes the “sincerity” of its presence on the continent compared to that of Europeans, who bear the legacy of colonialism.
And Erdogan can be less squeamish about what partners he chooses, according to a report on Turkiye’s defense accords with African countries by Teresa Nogueira Pinto, an analyst at Geopolitical Intelligence Services.
“Unlike the West, Turkiye does not make this assistance conditional on governance or human rights commitments,” Pinto wrote.

Turkiye has signed defense agreements with a number of states spanning the breadth of the continent, including Somalia, Libya, Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Ghana.
Those agreements have opened up contracts for Turkiye’s defense manufacturers, notably for its reputedly reliable and inexpensive drones.
Popularly used in the fight against terrorism, Turkish drones have been recently delivered to Chad, Togo, and the junta-led Sahel trio of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

Turkiye is also expanding its interests in Africa’s energy sector.
In September or October it plans to launch an oil and gas exploration mission off the coast of Somalia, similar to the one it is carrying out in Libyan waters.
Ankara is also said to be coveting Niger’s abundant uranium deposits which it needs to operate its future Russian-built Akkuyu nuclear power station — although Ankara’s diplomats deny this.
Nonetheless, Erdogan has bolstered ties with Niger’s ruling generals since their 2023 coup d’etat. Niamey received Turkiye’s intelligence chief and foreign, energy and defense ministers on Wednesday.

Ankara is generally seen as a “reliable partner,” said Didier Billion, Turkiye specialist at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs — “particularly in the construction and infrastructure sectors.”
When Turkish companies build big-ticket projects like hospitals, airports, or mosques, “deadlines and budgets are met, he added.
That reputation means more demand: in 2023, Turkish contractors were involved in $85.5 billion worth of projects, according to the trade ministry.
Turkish Airlines also crisscrosses the continent, flying to 62 destinations in Africa.
In 2012, it became the first airline to return to Mogadishu, whose airport was rebuilt with Turkish funding and assistance.

Turkiye has accumulated considerable soft power in the region, notably through education, the media and its shared religion with Africa’s many Muslim countries.
The religious Turkish Maarif Foundation has expanded to a network of 140 schools and institutions catering for 17,000 pupils, while 60,000 Africans are students in Turkiye.
Ankara’s powerful Directorate of Religious Affairs has stepped up its humanitarian activities and support for mosques and religious education across the region.
Billing itself as the first Turkish television channel on the continent, NRT boasts on its website that it serves 49 African countries, spreading the Turkish language.
Public broadcaster TRT also has programs in French, English, Swahili and Hausa and is developing training courses for future journalists.
Turkiye’s religious conservatism likewise resonates with many African countries, at a time when anti-LGBTQ laws are being adopted on the continent.
“When Erdogan denounces ‘LGBTQ people who undermine family values’, for many Africans, that’s music to their ears,” Billion said.


Will Turkiye and Syria succeed in turning the page on decade-long enmity?

Updated 11 min 23 sec ago

Will Turkiye and Syria succeed in turning the page on decade-long enmity?

  • Relations have remained frosty since Ankara and Damascus severed diplomatic ties in 2011 following the eruption of Syria’s civil war
  • President Erdogan’s recent announcement he could invite Assad to Turkiye “at any moment” has elicited mixed reactions from Syrians

ATHENS/QAMISHLI, Syria: Since 2022, senior Syrian and Turkish officials have periodically met in Moscow for talks mediated by Russia. But those meetings have failed to result in a thaw in their icy relations.

It is a different matter now, however, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announcing his desire to restore formal ties with his Syrian counterpart, Bashar Assad.

He said earlier this month that he could invite Assad to Turkiye “at any moment,” to which the Syrian leader responded that any meeting would depend on the “content.”

Ankara and Damascus severed diplomatic ties in 2011 following the eruption of Syria’s civil war. Relations have remained hostile ever since, particularly as Turkiye continues to support armed groups resisting the Assad regime.

Since the civil war erupted in 2011, Turkiye has supported armed Syrian factions in their fight against the regime of President Bashar Assad. (AFP)

What, then, is the motivation for changing course now? And what are the likely consequences of Turkish-Syrian normalization of ties?

Syrian writer and political researcher Shoresh Darwish believes President Erdogan is pursuing normalization for two reasons. “The first is preparation for the possibility of the arrival of a new American administration led by Donald Trump, which means the possibility of a return to the policy of (a US) withdrawal from Syria,” he told Arab News.

“Erdogan will therefore need to cooperate with Assad and Russia.”

This photo released by the Syrian Arab News Agency shows President Bashar Assad (R) meeting with then Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Aleppo. (SANA/AFP)

The second reason, Darwish says, is Erdogan’s desire to get closer to Syrian regime ally Russia after Turkiye’s drift toward the US following the outbreak of war in Ukraine. Indeed, as a NATO member state, the conflict has complicated Turkiye’s normally balanced approach to its ties with Washington and Moscow.

“Ankara’s cooperation with Moscow is difficult in terms of the Ukrainian issue,” said Darwish. “As a result of the significant Western interference in this issue, their cooperation in Syria represents a meeting point through which Erdogan wants to highlight his friendship with Putin and Moscow’s interests in the Middle East.”

Those in Syria’s opposition-held northwest, which is backed by Turkiye, see an Ankara-Damascus rapprochement as a betrayal.

Protesters in opposition-held Idlib and the Aleppo countryside wave flags of the Syrian revolution and hold signs that read: ‘If you want to get closer to Assad, congratulations, the curse of history is upon you.’ (AN photo by Ali Ali)

During one of several protests in Idlib since the beginning of July, demonstrators held signs in Arabic that read: “If you want to get closer to Assad, congratulations, the curse of history is upon you.”

Abdulkarim Omar, a political activist from Idlib, told Arab News: “Western Syria, Idlib, the Aleppo countryside, and all areas belonging to the opposition completely reject this behavior because it is only in the interest of the Syrian regime.

“The Syrian people came out 13 years ago and rose up in their revolution demanding freedom, dignity, and the building of a civil, democratic state for all Syrians. This can only be achieved by overthrowing the tyrannical Syrian regime represented by Bashar Assad. They still cling to this principle and these slogans and cannot abandon them.”

Those living in areas controlled by the Kurdish-led and US-backed Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, or AANES, which holds much of Syria’s territory east of the Euphrates River, are also wary of the consequences of normalization.

Map of Syria showing zones of control by the different partipants in late 2020. Some cities then under the control of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces had been seized by Turkish forces. (AFP/File)

“There are fears among the population that reconciliation may be a prelude to punishing the Syrian Kurds for their political choices,” said Omar.

Incursions into Syria from 2016 to 2019 saw Turkiye take control of several cities, many of which were previously under the control of the AANES.

Turkiye’s justification for its 2018 and 2019 incursions and continued presence on Syrian territory was its aim to establish a “safe zone” between itself and the armed forces of the AANES — the Syrian Democratic Forces.

A member of the Syrian Kurdish Asayish security forces stands guard as mourners march during the funeral of two Kurdish women killed in a Turkish drone strike in Hasakah, northeastern Syria, on June 21, 2023. (AFP)

Turkiye views the SDF as a Syrian wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a group that has been in conflict with the Turkish state since the 1980s.

“Naturally, the Syrian Kurds know that they will be part of any deal that Erdogan wants to conclude with Assad,” said Darwish. “This issue unnerves the Syrian Kurds, who see Turkiye as ready to do anything to harm them and their experience in self-administration.”

Darwish says the Syrian Kurds would accept reconciliation on three conditions. First they would want to see Turkiye remove its troops from Afrin and Ras Al-Ain. Second, an end to Turkish strikes against AANES areas. And third, a guarantee from the Assad regime “that the Syrian Kurds will enjoy their national, cultural, and administrative rights.”

In this photo taken on January 27, 2018, a Turkish military convoy drives through the Oncupinar border crossing as troops enter Syria during a military campaign in the Kurdish-held Syrian enclave of Afrin. (AFP/File)

But just how likely is a rapprochement between Ankara and Damascus? Not very, according to conflict analyst and UNHRC delegate Thoreau Redcrow. “I find the prospects of an Erdogan and Assad detente very unlikely,” he told Arab News.

“Historically, Turkiye’s ideas of ‘normalization’ with Syria amount to a policy of one-way influence for Ankara’s benefit. In this arrangement, Turkiye continues to occupy Hatay (Liwa Iskenderun), which they seized from Syria in 1938, and make military incursion demands on their sovereignty, like with the Adana Agreement in 1998, but give nothing in return.”

Assad has made it clear in public statements that a meeting between him and Erdogan would only occur on the condition of a Turkish withdrawal from Syrian territory. Redcrow believes Turkiye has no intention of leaving.

“I cannot see Damascus being interested in being manipulated for a photo-op,” he said. “The Syrian government is far more prideful than some of the other regional actors who are happy to be one of Turkiye’s ‘neo-Ottoman vilayets.’”

Erdogan may be attempting to capitalize on the trend toward normalization among Arab countries, which began in earnest with Syria’s reinstatement into the Arab league last year. European states and the US, however, remain divided.

Syrian women soldiers parade at an opposition-controlled territory in northern Syria. (AN photo by ali Ali)

“Whereas Germany, France, Italy, and the UK in particular are more focused on how Turkiye can control the gateway into Europe and act as a ‘continental bouncer’ for refugees from the Middle East and Western Asia, the US is more focused on denying Russia and Iran full access to all of Syria again for strategic reasons, like Mediterranean Sea access and the ‘Shiite land bridge’ from Tehran to Beirut,” said Redcrow.

“The current status quo is far more beneficial to Washington than any reconciliation would be, as it would also endanger the northeast portions of Syria, where the US military is embedded with their most reliable military partners against Daesh in the SDF. So, Turkiye would not be given any kind of green light to place American interests at risk.”

The US House of Representatives in February passed the Assad Regime Anti-Normalization Act of 2023, which prohibits any normalization with Assad. In a post on the social media platform X on July 12, the bill’s author, Rep. Joe Wilson, voiced his disappointment with Erdogan’s calls for normalization, likening it to “normalizing with death itself.”

Though there may be little chance of reconciliation succeeding at this point, the approximately 3.18 million Syrian refugees living in Turkiye view even rumors of normalization with fear and dread.

“People are very afraid,” Amal Hayat, a Syrian mother of five living in southeastern Turkiye, told Arab News. “Since the rumors (of reconciliation) started, many people don’t even leave their homes. Even if they are beaten by their bosses at work, they are afraid to say anything for fear of being deported.”

A Syrian woman is seen at a refugee camp near the Syria-Turkish border. (AN photo by Ali Ali)

Turkish authorities deported more than 57,000 Syrians in 2023, according to Human Rights Watch.

“A forced return would affect us a lot,” said Hayat. “For example, if a woman returns to Syria with her family, her husband may be arrested by the regime. Or if a man gets deported back to Syria and his wife and children stay in Turkiye, how will they manage? It’s difficult. Here, our kids can study. They have stability and safety.”

The fear of deportation has been compounded by waves of violence against Syrian refugees which swept Turkiye’s south in recent weeks. On June 30, residents of central Turkiye’s Kayseri province attacked Syrians and their property.

Anti-Syrian sentiment in Turkiye is partially due to economic issues, where Turks see underpaid or even unpaid Syrians as a threat to their prospects of employment.

“The Turks are very happy for us to return home,” said Hayat. “For them, it’s not soon enough. We are all living under a heightened level of stress. We are just praying that (Assad and Erdogan) don’t reconcile.”