News

Avalanche in eastern Turkey

An avalanche in eastern Turkey killed at least 21 people, including military police and civilians who were working to rescue victims of an earlier snowslide, the local governor said on Wednesday, according to the news agency Reuters.

Mehmet Emin Bilmez, governor of the eastern province of Van, said some 30 people had been pulled out from under the snow.

More people are believed to be still trapped, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said earlier, without giving a number.

TV footage from Van’s Bahcesaray district showed dozens of people using shovels and sticks in snowfall and high winds to dig out buried vehicles, and other overturned vehicles.

Soylu said the conditions in the area made it difficult for rescue vehicles to operate, adding a vehicle had been pulled out from under 4-5 meters (16 feet) of snow.

Rescue teams were working to rescue people trapped under an earlier avalanche that struck on Tuesday, killing five people. Eight people were rescued from that avalanche and the second snowslide occurred as teams were searching for two others.

Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen

Justice, News, Politics

How Middle East Reacting to Donald Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian Peace Plan

Middle Eastern nations offered mixed reactions to President Donald Trump’s long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, a framework negotiated without the participation of Palestinians, who have been engaged in a land dispute with the world’s only majority-Jewish nation since its creation in 1948.

Trump released his “Vision for Peace, Prosperity and a Brighter Future” alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday at a White House gathering boycotted by Palestinian officials that have severed ties to the administration over its decision to recognize the contested city of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. Trump billed his initiative as the most detailed yet after successive U.S. administrations have tried and failed for years to settle the conflict.

The president’s plan grants Israel control over internationally-unrecognized Jewish settlements and occupied areas bordering Jordan in exchange for a Palestinian path to potential statehood and some desert territories along the Egyptian border should the Palestinians renounce violence and recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The strategy would also see up to $50 billion invested in Palestinian-administered territories.

Both Netanyahu and his upcoming elections rival Benny Gantz endorsed the proposal, but it was received less warmly in the Middle East.

Palestinian National Authority

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas roundly rejected the Trump administration’s strategy even before it was released. Following Trump’s reveal on Tuesday, Abbas held a press conference at which he responded to the plan “with a thousand no’s,” especially to the U.S. proposal for an “undivided” Israeli capital in Jerusalem and a separate Palestinian capital somewhere on the eastern outskirts of the holy city.

“Jerusalem is not for sale. Our rights are not for sale. Your conspiracy deal will not pass,” Abbas stated, warning that the Palestinian people will dump his plan “into the dustbin of history.”

Previously on Tuesday, Abbas spoke via telephone with Ismail Haniyeh, the chief of Palestinian Sunni Islamist movement Hamas. The two stressed unity in the face of the U.S. strategy.

“The comprehensive and united resistance is capable of thwarting all the projects to liquidate the Palestinian cause, foremost of which is the ‘deal of the century,'” Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qasem said Tuesday in a press statement, stressing “that the occupation will not obtain security through the deal of the century or any other promises as long as it occupies our land and our sanctities.”

Palestinians angrily reject Trump Mideast peace plan

Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli forces on the outskirts of Ramallah, near the Jewish settlement of Beit El.

Jordan

Jordan is one of only two Arab countries that has a peace agreement with Israel, the other being Egypt. Still, Israel’s planned landgrab across the border is likely to be controversial among the kingdom’s Palestinian-origin majority.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi called in a statement Tuesday for a “just and lasting peace that meets all the legitimate rights of the brotherly Palestinian people” but stated that a two-state solution would need to respect Palestinian claims to territories occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War of 1967, including an East Jerusalem capital.

“Jordan must condemn unilateral Israeli measures in violation of international law and provocative actions that push the region toward more tension and escalation,” he said.

“Jordan will continue to work with Arab countries and the international community for realizing peace,” Safadi added, offering support for “every real effort aimed at achieving a just and comprehensive peace accepted by the peoples.”

Saudi Arabia

The Saudi Foreign Ministry said it had reviewed the U.S. plan and would support any path toward realizing “a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian issue.”

“The kingdom appreciates the efforts made by the Trump administration to develop a comprehensive peace plan between the Palestinian and Israeli sides, and encourages the initiation and direct negotiations of peace between the Palestinian and Israeli sides under the auspices of the United States of America and to address any differences on any aspects of the plan through negotiations,” the ministry said.

Saudi King Salman also called Abbas directly, telling him that “your issue is ours, and the issue of Arabs and Muslims, and we are with you,” according to the Palestine News Agency, the official outlet of the Palestinian National Authority.

President Donald Trump and Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu

Iran

Iran has portrayed itself as the premier supporter of the Palestinian cause and actively backs armed Palestinian groups such as Hamas, along with the power Shiite Muslim Hezbollah movement in Lebanon and other friendly forces in Syria and Iraq, where Israel has stepped up a semi-covert campaign against them. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi termed Trump’s plan “the betrayal of the century.”

“The Zionist regime is a usurper and occupation regime, and the only solution to the Palestinian crisis will be to hold a referendum among the main inhabitants of the land of Palestine, and such vicious plans are doomed to failure,” Mousavi said.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called Trump’s proposal “simply the dream project of a bankruptcy-ridden real estate developer.”

“But it is a nightmare for the region and the world,” Zarif added. “And, hopefully, a wake-up call for all the Muslims who have been barking up the wrong tree #LetsUniteforPalestine.

Turkey

Turkey has often criticized what it saw as harsh and unfair Israeli policies towards Palestinians but was more recently feuding with Israel over disputed maritime territory in the oil-and-gas-rich Mediterranean Sea. In a statement issued Tuesday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry called the U.S. plan “stillborn.”

“This is an annexation plan aiming to destroy the two-state solution and seize the Palestinian territories. The people and the land of Palestine cannot be bought off,” the statement said. “Jerusalem is our red line. We will not allow any step seeking to legitimize Israel’s occupation and atrocities. We will always stand by the brotherly Palestinian people and will continue to work for an independent Palestine on Palestinian land.”

“We will not support any plan that does not have the support of Palestine,” it added. “There will not be any peace in the Middle East without ending Israel’s occupation policies.”

Egypt

Egypt was once the primary military backer of Palestinian commandos battling Israel but the countries’ 1979 peace treaty, facilitated by President Jimmy Carter, helped pave the way for plans for Palestinian autonomy. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday the country “appreciates the continued efforts made by the American administration to reach a comprehensive and just peace for the Palestinian cause, thus contributing to supporting stability and security in the Middle East, and ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”

Cairo called on both sides “to carefully study the American vision for achieving peace, find out all its dimensions, and open channels of dialogue to resume negotiations under American auspices, to put forward the vision of the Palestinian and Israeli parties towards it, in order to reach an agreement that meets the aspirations and hopes of the two peoples in achieving a comprehensive and just peace between them.”

A solution, the statement said, should grant Palestinians their “full legitimate rights through the establishment of their independent sovereign state over the occupied Palestinian territories, in accordance with international legitimacy.”

United Arab Emirates

The ambassadors of the UAE, Bahrain and Oman to the U.S. all attended Trump’s talk Tuesday in an apparent sign of support for his Israeli-Palestinian initiative. Emirati envoy Yousef al-Otaiba said Abu Dhabi “appreciates continued US efforts to reach a Palestine-Israel peace agreement. This plan is a serious initiative that addresses many issues raised over the years.”

“The only way to guarantee a lasting solution is to reach an agreement between all concerned parties,” he added. “The UAE believes that Palestinians and Israelis can achieve lasting peace and genuine coexistence with the support of the international community.

The plan announced today offers an important starting point for a return to negotiations within a US-led international framework.”

Influential movements opposed to Israel also expressed their criticism of Trump’s plan. Lebanon’s Hezbollah “expressed its condemnation and strong rejection of the shameful deal launched by the savage Trump administration at the expense of the Palestinian people, their land, sanctities and their legitimate natural rights,” according to the group’s affiliated Al Manar outlet.

“The deal is a very dangerous step that will have very bad repercussions on the future of the region and its people,” the group added.

Yemen

Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, spokesperson for the Zaidi Shiite Muslim movement known as Ansar Allah, or the Houthi movement, said the “deal of the century will remain an illusion, and will not change the reality of Arab and Islamic awareness of the centrality of the Palestinian cause,” using language that mirrored the group’s stance toward Kushner’s economic proposal first revealed last June.

A day before Trump’s announcement, Islamic State militant group (ISIS) spokesperson Abu Hamza al-Qurayshi also blasted the anticipated plan during a 37-minute audio message. He called on “Muslims in Palestine and all countries” to “be a spearhead in the war against the Jews and in thwarting their plans and their deal of the century,” also criticizing Iran and Hamas.

News

Turkey could close Incirlik air base in face of U.S. threats says Erdogan

Turkey could shut down its Incirlik air base, which hosts U.S. nuclear warheads, in response to threats of U.S. sanctions and a separate U.S. Senate resolution that recognized mass killings of Armenians a century ago as genocide, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday.

“If it is necessary for us to take such a step, of course we have the authority … If this is necessary, together with our delegations, we will close down Incirlik if necessary,” Erdogan said on A Haber TV.

Incirlik Air Base, Turkey

Turkey can also close down the Kurecik radar base if necessary, he added. “If they are threatening us with the implementation of these sanctions, of course we will be retaliating,” he said.

Turkey condemned the U.S. Senate measure last week.

Erdogan suggested on Sunday that Turkey could also respond with parliamentary resolutions recognizing the killings of indigenous Americans in past centuries as genocide.

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News, Politics

Russia says Kurds complete withdrawal from Turkish border

Russia’s defense minister said Tuesday that Syrian Kurdish fighters have completed their withdrawal from areas along the Syrian border, in line with a recent Russia-Turkey deal. Sergei Shoigu said Russian and Syrian troops have moved into the border zone following the Kurdish withdrawal.

Separately, a Russian military statement said an explosive device went off near Russian armored vehicles near the Darbasiyah border checkpoint, but there were no injuries or damage.

Last week’s Russia-Turkey deal to divide control of northeast Syria has halted the Turkish invasion of the area. Ankara aimed to drive out Syrian Kurdish forces there.

Shortly after the Turkish operation inside Syria had started, a convoy of Turkish forces vehicles is driven through the town of Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, at the border between Turkey and Syria, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. Turkey launched a military operation Wednesday against Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria after U.S. forces pulled back from the area, with a series of airstrikes hitting a town on Syria’s northern border. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

The Kurdish-led forces had been U.S. allies during a five-year campaign against the Islamic State group in Syria. But U.S. forces withdrew from the area, allowing the Turkish offensive. The Kurds have since turned to Russia and the Syrian government in Damascus for protection.

Moscow and Ankara have agreed that Turkey gets to retain control over the areas it seized when it launched its offensive on Oct. 9. Russian and Syrian troops will control the rest of the frontier.

Russia and Turkey are set to conduct joint patrols of areas east and west of the Turkish-held parts of the border area.

Later Tuesday, Turkey’s communications director Fahrettin Altun tweeted that his country’s forces would verify whether the Syrian Kurdish fighters had withdrawn once those joint patrols begin.

Turkey’s Defense Ministry didn’t immediately say if the Kurds have met the deadline. It said Russian and Turkish military officials completed a second day of talks about implementing last week’s deal struck by Moscow and Ankara to divide control of northeast Syria, but didn’t provide further details.

The Syrian Kurdish fighters had until 3 p.m. GMT to pull back to positions about 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the Turkish border. Ankara has threatened to resume its offensive if the Kurdish militias did not retreat.

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News, Politics

Syrian Kurds accuse Turkey of violating ceasefire

Kurdish-led forces in north-east Syria have accused Turkish troops and allied Syrian rebels of violating a ceasefire deal that ended a two-week offensive. The head of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, Mazloum Abdi, said there had been attacks on the frontline near the town of Ras al-Ain.

He urged the truce’s guarantors – the US and Russia – to “rein in the Turks”.

Meanwhile, the Russian foreign ministry said Kurdish fighters in the SDF were pulling back from the Turkish border. Under a deal between Russia and Turkey, they must withdraw at least 30km (20 miles) by Tuesday and hand over control to the Russian and Syrian militaries. In a speech, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that if Kurdish fighters failed to do so, his country would use its right to “crush them”.

How did we get here?

Two weeks ago, Turkey launched a cross-border operation to set up a “safe zone” on the Syrian side of the border clear of members of a Kurdish militia that dominates the SDF called the People’s Protection Units (YPG).

The Turkish government views the YPG as a terrorist organisation. It says it is an extension of a Kurdish rebel group that has been fighting in Turkey for decades.

The Turkish assault began days after US troops, who had relied on the SDF to defeat the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) in Syria, pulled back from the border.

The SDF complained that it had been “stabbed in the back” by the US and after several days of fighting the alliance turned to the Syrian government and its ally, Russia, for help. They agreed to deploy Syrian soldiers and Russian military police to stop the Turkish advance.

Despite his support for the Syrian opposition, Mr Erdogan reached a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi that was meant to end the offensive.

They agreed that Turkey could keep its forces in a 120km-long, 30km-deep strip of territory between Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad, and that Russian and Syrian troops would ensure the withdrawal of YPG fighters from the rest of the border area.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said 120 Syrian civilians were killed during the offensive, along with 275 SDF fighters, 196 Turkish-backed Syrian rebels, 10 Turkish soldiers, and five Syrian soldiers. Twenty civilians also died in YPG attacks on Turkey, according to Turkish officials.

What’s the latest on the ground?

SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said on Tuesday that the Turkish army had attacked three villages south of Ras al-Ain – Assadiya, Mishrafa and Manajer – “with a large number of mercenaries and all kinds of heavy weapons despite the truce”. “SDF will exercise its right to legitimate self defense and we are not responsible for the violation of the agreement,” he tweeted.

There was no immediate comment from Turkey. But its state-run Anadolu news agency said two Syrian rebel fighters had been injured in a YPG bomb attack in the Tal Abyad area. Russian media reported that 276 additional military police officers and heavy equipment will be sent to Syria in the next week to patrol the border area.

“We note with satisfaction that the agreements reached in Sochi are being implemented,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stressed that any US troops still based in Syria were there illegally and should withdraw immediately.

What is the US saying?

Defence Secretary Mark Esper told a think tank in Brussels on Thursday that Turkey had put the US “in a very terrible situation” by launching the offensive, adding: “I think the incursion was unwarranted.”

He also warned that its NATO ally was “heading in the wrong direction”. “We see them spinning closer to Russia’s orbit than in the Western orbit, and I think that is unfortunate.”

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump said he would lift the sanctions he imposed in response to the Turkish offensive and said his administration’s efforts to broker a ceasefire had “saved tens of thousands of Kurds”. He also defended the US withdrawal from Syria, despite the fact that the move has cemented Russia’s role as the pivotal player in Syria.

“Turkey, Syria, and all forms of the Kurds, have been fighting for centuries. We have done them a great service, and we’ve done a great job for all of them. And now we’re getting out.”

“Let someone else fight over this long blood-stained sand,” he added.

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News, Politics

Kremlin says U.S. betrayed Kurds in Syria

The Kremlin said on Wednesday that the United States had betrayed and abandoned the Syrian Kurds and advised the Kurds to withdraw from the Syrian border as per a deal between Moscow and Ankara or be mauled by the Turkish army.

The comments by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov to Russian news agencies followed a deal agreed on Tuesday between Russia and Turkey that will see Syrian and Russian forces deploy to northeast Syria to remove Kurdish YPG fighters and their weapons from the border with Turkey.

A member of the Kurdish Internal Security Force stands guard during a protest against the Turkish assault on northeastern Syria, in the town of Qamishli, on Oct. 23.

Peskov, who was reported to be reacting to comments by U.S. President Donald Trump’s special envoy for Syria James Jeffrey, complained that it appeared that the United States was encouraging the Kurds to stay close to the Syrian border and fight the Turkish army.

“The United States has been the Kurds’ closest ally in recent years. (But) in the end, it abandoned the Kurds and, in essence, betrayed them,” Peskov was cited as saying.

Russian and Syrian national flags are pictured near the northern Syrian village of Zor Magar, as seen from the Turkish border town of Karkamis in Gaziantep province, Turkey, on Oct. 23.

“Now they (the Americans) prefer to leave the Kurds at the border (with Turkey) and almost force them to fight the Turks.”

If the Kurds did not withdraw as per the deal between Moscow and Ankara, Peskov said that Syrian borders guards and Russian military police would have to withdraw, leaving the Kurds to be dealt with by the Turkish army.

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News, Politics

The violence escalates in Syria

President Trump on Monday called for an immediate halt to Turkey’s invasion of Syria and is sending Vice President Mike Pence to Turkey. The president also authorized new sanctions against Turkey’s leaders and said he will raise tariffs on Turkish steel.

Civilians and journalists, including CBS News correspondent Charlie D’Agata, are scrambling to flee the fighting. With rumors swirling that the Syrian regime was about to retake the border crossing between Syria and Iraq, CBS News rushed to get there.

Before crossing back into Iraq on Monday, CBS News saw a country that had changed dramatically since the president announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria.
Syrian regime forces swept into towns and cities held until Sunday by the Syrian Kurds. Kurdish hospitals were overwhelmed with casualties, including small children. Turkish-backed militias took ground quickly and ruthlessly, even executing Kurdish soldiers and civilians on the roadside.

Desperate Kurdish forces told CBS News they hoped their U.S. allies would step in. Commander Redur Xelil said they fought alongside Mr. Trump’s soldiers and hopes he can at least stop the Turkish airstrikes. But the announcement of the U.S. withdrawal gave the Kurds no choice but to cut a deal with America’s sworn enemies, the Syrian regime, backed by Russia. With Turkish forces advancing to a crucial highway in northeast Syria, choking off supply and escape routes, the Syrian regime moved swiftly to take over the key cities of Kobani, Qamishli and Al Hasaka.

Meanwhile, Turkish forces said they found a prison used to hold ISIS fighters deserted. Hundreds of ISIS family members and supporters had escaped from a detention camp, and Kurdish forces told CBS News they were struggling to contain 11,000 ISIS detainees.

Mr. Trump said Monday that U.S. troops being pulled out of Syria will remain in the Middle East to prevent an ISIS resurgence. With Turkish forces moving south and Russian-backed Syrian units advancing north, 1,000 troops are caught in the middle, looking for the safest way out. Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley spoke by phone with the Russian chief of staff in an effort to make sure there is no interference with the American withdrawal. It will include equipment as well as troops, as Defense Secretary Mark Esper said to Margaret Brennan on “Face the Nation.”

“We want to make sure we de-conflict a pullback of forces. We want to make sure we don’t leave equipment behind,” he said. When the withdrawal order was issued, U.S. troops were strung out across northern Syria from near the Iraq border as far west as Manbij. The most exposed units are being pulled back to larger bases that can be better defended.

Kobane near the Turkish border has an airstrip that can handle everything from helicopters to jet transports and has served as the logistics hub for the now-defunct alliance between the U.S. and Kurdish fighters in the campaign against ISIS. If the withdrawal goes according to plan, it will take 15 to 30 days to move the equipment and people out.
Mr. Trump has blamed the upheaval on Turkey and Turkish President Erdogan. On Monday, he announced he will impose sanctions and is fully prepared to destroy Turkey’s economy. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Congress would pile on with more. “We’re going to break his economy until he stops the bloodshed,” Graham said.

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News, Politics

Turkey Bombs US Special Forces in Syria Attack, by Mistake

A contingent of U.S. Special Forces has been caught up in Turkish shelling against U.S.-backed Kurdish positions in northern Syria.

Newsweek has learned through both an Iraqi Kurdish intelligence official and senior Pentagon official that Special Forces operating in the Mashtenour hill in the majority-Kurdish city of Kobani fell under artillery fire from Turkish forces conducting their so-called “Operation Spring Peace” against Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. but considered terrorist organizations by Turkey. 

The senior Pentagon official said that Turkish forces should be aware of U.S. positions “down to the grid.” While the official could not specify the exact number of personnel present, but indicated they were “small numbers below company level,” so somewhere between 15 and 100 troops. 

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Turkish ground forces seized at least one village from Kurdish fighters in northern Syria

Turkish ground forces seized at least one village from Kurdish fighters in northern Syria as they pressed ahead with their assault Thursday, launching airstrikes and unleashing artillery shelling on towns and villages the length of its border. The Turkish invasion, now in its second day, has been widely condemned around the world. In northern Syria, residents of border areas scrambled in panic as they tried to get out on foot, in cars and with rickshaws piled with mattresses and a few belongings.

It was wrenchingly familiar for the many who only a few years ago, had fled the advances on their towns and villages by the Islamic State group. A Kurdish-led group and Syrian activists claimed Thursday that despite the heavy barrage, Turkish troops had not made much progress on several fronts they had opened over the past hours. But their claims could not be independently verified and the situation on the ground was difficult to assess.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed that 109 “terrorists” were killed since Ankara launched the offensive into Syria the previous day — a reference to the U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters. He did not elaborate, and the reports on the ground did not indicate anything remotely close to such a large number of casualties.
Erdogan also warned the European Union not to call Ankara’s incursion into Syria an “invasion,” and renewed his threat of “opening the gates” and letting Syrian refugees flood Europe.

Turkey’s state-run news agency said Turkey-allied Syrian opposition fighters cleared two villages across the border in Syria, Yabisa and Tel Fander, and entered them. It did not provide further details.

Maj. Youssef Hammoud, a spokesman for the Turkish-backed Syrian fighters, tweeted that they were in Yabisa, near the town of Tal Abyad, describing it as “the first village to win freedom.”The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Turkish commandos entered the village of Beir Asheq.

Turkey began its offensive in northern Syria on Wednesday with airstrikes and artillery shelling, and then ground troops began crossing the border later in the day. U.S. troops pulled back from the area, paving the way for Turkey’s assault.Turkey has long threatened to attack the Kurdish fighters whom Ankara considers terrorists allied with a Kurdish insurgency in Turkey. Expectations of an invasion increased after President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision Sunday to essentially abandon the Syrian Kurdish fighters, leaving them vulnerable to a Turkish offensive.

The Kurds, who have been America’s only allies in Syria fighting the Islamic State group, stopped on Thursday all their operations against the IS extremists in order to focus on fighting advancing Turkish troops, Kurdish and U.S. officials said. Turkey considers its operations against the Kurdish militia in Syria a matter of its own survival and has long insisted it won’t tolerate a local Kurdish administration in Syria along its border. It says Kurdish fighters there are linked to its outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has led an insurgency against Turkey for 35 years, killing tens of thousands.

Turkey’s PKK is considered a terror group by Turkey and its Western allies, including the United States. Ankara has been infuriated by U.S. support for the Syrian Kurdish fighters, claiming that Washington was arming an extension of a terror group — charges both the U.S. and the Syrian Kurds deny. The Turkish Defense Ministry statement Thursday did not provide further details on the offensive but shared a brief video of commandos in action. The ministry said Turkish jets and artillery had struck 181 targets east of the Euphrates River in Syria since the incursion started.

Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said their fighters have repelled Turkish forces ground attacks.The Observatory, a war monitor that has activists throughout the country, said that since Turkey began its operation, seven civilians have been killed.Turkey says it intends to create a “safe zone” that would push the Kurdish militia away from its border and eventually allow the repatriation of up to 2 million Syrian refugees in the area.

Trump’s decision to have American troops step aside in northeastern Syria was a major shift in U.S. policy and drew opposition from all sides at home. It also marked a stark change in rhetoric by Trump, who during a press conference in New York last year vowed to stand by the Kurds, who have been America’s only allies in Syria fighting IS.
Trump said at the time that the Kurds “fought with us” and “died with us,” and insisted that America would never forget.

After Erdogan announced the offensive, Trump called the operation “a bad idea.” Later Wednesday, he said he didn’t want to be involved in “endless, senseless wars.”
Turkey’s campaign — in which a NATO member rained down bombs on an area where hundreds of U.S. troops had been stationed — drew immediate criticism and calls for restraint from Europe.

Australia on Thursday expressed concerns the Turkish incursion could galvanize a resurgence of the Islamic State group and refused to endorse the close ally U.S. for pulling back its troops from the area. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he had been in contact with the Turkish and U.S. governments overnight and admitted to being worried about the situation.

In Washington, officials said Wednesday that two British militants believed to be part of an Islamic State cell that beheaded hostages had been moved out of a detention center in Syria and were in U.S. custody. The two, El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Amon Kotey, along with other British jihadis allegedly made up the IS cell nicknamed “The Beatles” by surviving captives because of their English accents. In 2014 and 2015, the militants held more than 20 Western hostages in Syria and tortured many of them. The group beheaded seven American, British and Japanese journalists and aid workers and a group of Syrian soldiers, boasting of the butchery in videos released to the world.

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Iran Holds Military Drills Near Turkey

Iran launched unannounced drills Wednesday near its border with Turkey as the Islamic Republic warned its neighbor not to move forward with its military operation in northern Syria and Russia criticized the United States for setting up a potentially deadly scenario in the region.

Iranian army chief Major General Abdul Rahim Mousavi oversaw what was described as surprise exercises designed to “measure the readiness, mobility and speed” of his forces in the country’s northwest. Without specifying the exact nature of the maneuvers, Mousavi explained in an official release that the results of the drills were positive.

Turkish-backed Syrian rebel fighters head to an area near the Syrian-Turkish border north of Aleppo on Oct. 8.

“This is a good message for the great Iranian nation that its soldiers and children are fully prepared to carry out their missions to counter any possible enemy movement,” Mousavi said, saying the troops are “at the peak of their readiness.”

“The message to the enemies is that if they make the wrong calculations, they should know that the children of this land are ready to resist with their full power at any time and place,” he added.

The drills came as Iran, an ally of the Syrian government, continued to voice concerns toward pro-opposition Turkey’s planned incursion into northern Syria. The operation planned to target both the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the major component of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, and the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), both of which Ankara considers terrorist organizations.

“We have made it clear that the solution to establishment of security in the northern Syrian and southern Turkish borders is possible only with the presence of the Syrian army and we must provide all grounds for the Syrian military presence in these areas,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said when in a cabinet meeting, according to his office. “The Americans must leave the region, and the Kurds should cooperate with the Syrian Army, which is actually their own country

“The path chosen today and the agreements that are happening behind the scenes will not benefit the region, and we call on our friend and brother Turkey and its government to pay more attention and patience in such matters,” he added.

The U.S., which is opposed to Iran’s presence in Syria and disavows the government due to alleged war crimes, has repositioned its forces out of harm’s way ahead of the Turkish assault, which reportedly began Wednesday with strikes on Kurdish militias positions. The U.S. has offered conflicting statements about its views toward the coming attack, with President Donald Trump suggesting he was in support of Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s long-threatened military actions, while the Pentagon described his moves as “unilateral” and signaled disapproval.

The Syrian Democratic Forces have been the major local partner of the U.S.-led fight against ISIS in Syria since 2015, when focus began to shift away from an increasingly Islamist opposition trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who received a major boost via a Russian military intervention around that same time. ISIS has since been largely defeated by the rival U.S.-led coalition and pro-government campaigns.

“Fighting between various groups that has been going on for hundreds of years. USA should never have been in Middle East. Moved our 50 soldiers out. Turkey MUST take over captured ISIS fighters that Europe refused to have returned. The stupid endless wars, for us, are ending!,” Trump tweeted Wednesday.

With the rebels and other jihadis of Syria’s insurgency also widely defeated, the government and the Syrian Democratic Forces were left as the two major factions in the country. Months of negotiations between the two have so far been unsuccessful and both Moscow and Damascus have blamed Washington’s de facto support for Kurdish self-rule.

“Americans must understand that the processes that have unfolded in the north-east of Syria over the past few years are a direct violation of the requirements of the UN Security Council resolution on respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Syria,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said during a joint press conference with his Kazakh counterpart.

 “The Americans organized quasi-state structures there, ensured their livelihoods, vitality, and very actively promoted the Kurdish issue in a way that aroused opposition among the Arab tribes traditionally living in these territories. This is a very dangerous game,” he added, calling for “serious changes in their inconsistent, contradictory policies.”

Despite being on different sides of Syria’s protracted conflict, Moscow, along with fellow government supporter Tehran, has worked with Ankara as part of a trilateral peace process based in the Kazakh capital of Astana, since renamed Nur-Sultan. Though Russia has been reserved in its criticism toward Turkey, Lavrov echoed Rouhani in saying that the only solution would be “through a dialogue between the central government in Damascus and representatives of the Kurdish communities traditionally living in these territories.”

The Syrian Foreign Ministry, for its part, “condemns in the strongest possible terms the aggressive statements and aggressive intentions of the Turkish regime and the military build-up on the Syrian border which is a flagrant violation of international law and a flagrant violation of UN Security Council resolutions, all of which emphasize respect for unity, safety and sovereignty of Syria,” as reported Tuesday the official Syrian Arab News Agency. Should Turkey move forward with its attack, the statement warned Ankara would forfeit its position in the Astana process.

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