Posts Tagged ‘Kurdish’

Syria Kurds claim striking positions in Turkey

February 18, 2018

AFP

© AFP | Syrian Kurds march in the northern Syrian city of Afrin during a February 4, 2018 demonstration against the Turkish-led military assault on the enclave

BEIRUT (AFP) – A Kurdish-led alliance in northern Syria said late Saturday it had targeted military positions in Turkey, which is leading an offensive against a Kurdish-controlled enclave.It was the first time the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, has claimed a cross-border attack on Turkish forces.

No Turkish official was immediately available for comment on the incident.

Ankara and allied Syrian rebels have waged a nearly month-long offensive on Afrin, a northwestern pocket of Syria controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which make up the bulk of the SDF.

Late Saturday, the SDF announced it had carried out “a special operation against a gathering centre for Turkish soldiers” and allied Syrian factions.

It said the position was in Kirikhan, a district in Turkey’s Hatay province, and that there were casualties, without specifying what weapons it had used.

“We call on civilians to stay away from positions controlled by the Turkish invaders and… terrorists, as all military positions are legitimate targets for our forces,” the statement added.

Turkish media on Saturday reported that two Turkish soldiers and five allied Syrian rebels were wounded when mortar fire hit a police station in Kirikhan.

The SDF has been the US-led coalition’s main ground partner in the fight against the Islamic State jihadist group in the east of the country but receives no direct US support for its operations in Afrin.

Ankara has blacklisted the YPG as a “terrorist” group, saying it is the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency in southeastern Turkey.

Determined to roll back the YPG’s presence along its southern border, Turkey has repeatedly bombed positions held by the Kurdish militia and the SDF during Syria’s seven-year conflict.

But the assault Ankara and allied Syrian rebels launched against Afrin on January 20 is Turkey’s largest operation yet against the Kurdish forces.

Last week, YPG chief Sipan Hamo said his forces had never launched an attack across the border from Syria into Turkey.

“From when we established our forces until today, we have never conducted an operation on Turkish soil and haven’t thrown a single rock at it,” Hamo told reporters.

Advertisements

1,595 Militants “Neutralized” In Turkey’s Olive Branch Operation In Aleppo’s Afrin Northern Syria

February 17, 2018

Prepared By : Wissam Al-Ahmed – Edited By : Talal Kharrat

 Updated : Saturday 17 February 2018 | 12 : 11AM Damascus Timming

1,595

Saturday 17 February 2018

(Qasioun) – The Turkish Army General Staff said in its daily statement on Thursday that a total of 1,595 militants followed to the People’s defense units YPG and ISIS militant groups have been “neutralized” since the beginning of the running operation of Olive Branch launched in cooperation between Turkish army TSK and Free Syrian Army FSA.

 

Also, 674 YPG targets have been destroyed in air strikes since the start of the operation, the military said.

 

The statement added “utmost importance” is being placed on not harming any civilians.

 

According to the Turkish General Staff, the operation aims to establish security and stability along Turkish borders and in the region as well as to protect Syrian people from the oppression and cruelty of terrorists.

Image may contain: text

Read the rest:

http://qasioun-news.com/en/news/show/132905/,_Militants_%E2%80%9CNeutralized%E2%80%9D_In_Turkey%E2%80%99s_Olive_Branch_Operation_In_Aleppo%E2%80%99s_Afrin_Northern_Syria

 

 

Kurdish doctors report suspected Turkish gas attack in Syria

February 17, 2018

In this Jan. 28, 2018 file photo, a plume of smoke rises from inside Syria, during Turkish forces bombardment, on the Kurdish-controlled enclave of Afrin, Syria, as seen from the border with Syria, in Kilis, Turkey. (AP)
BEIRUT: Six civilians suffered breathing difficulties and other symptoms indicative of poison gas inhalation after an attack launched by Turkey on the Kurdish-controlled enclave of Afrin, Syrian Kurdish news outlets and Syria’s state-run news agency reported Saturday.
.
The news outlets quoted local doctors in Afrin as saying the hospital treated six cases of people who suffered shortness of breath, vomiting and skin rashes. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group also quoted local doctors in its report.
.
The claims could not be independently confirmed, and videos released from the hospital showed people being fitted with oxygen masks who did not otherwise show symptoms of gas attack inhalation such as twitching, foaming at the mouth or vomiting.
.
SANA on Saturday said Turkey fired several shells containing “toxic substances” on a village in Afrin on Friday night, causing six civilians to suffer suffocation symptoms.
.
The Turkish military repeated in a weekly statement published Saturday that it does not use internationally “banned ammunition” in its Afrin operation and said, “the Turkish Armed Forces does not keep such ammunition in its inventory.”
.
The army also said it is careful to not harm civilians and only targets “terrorists” and their positions in the Afrin region.
.
A Turkish diplomatic source said that Turkey never used chemical weapons in its operations in Syria, and takes the utmost care of civilians.
.
“These are baseless accusations. Turkey never used chemical weapons. We take utmost care about civilians in Operation Olive Branch,” the source said.
.
The source also described the accusations of wounding six civilians through a suspected gas attack as “black propaganda.”
.
The Turkish military launched an aerial and ground offensive on Afrin, in northwestern Syria, on Jan. 20. It says the aim of the operation is to push out the Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, from the enclave. Turkey considers the group to be a terrorist group and an extension of the Kurdish insurgents it fights inside Turkey.
.
SANA, as well as Kurdish news outlets including Kurdistan 24, quoted doctor Khalil Sabri at the Afrin hospital as saying the attack occurred on the village of Aranda and that victims suffered shortness of breath, skin rashes, vomiting and low blood pressure.

U.S., Turkey agrees to normalize relations, Turkish Foreign Minister says

February 16, 2018

Reuters

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey and the United States have decided to “establish mechanisms” to normalize relations between them, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Friday, after weeks of escalating anti-American rhetoric from Ankara.

Speaking at a joint news conference with his U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Cavusoglu said Turkey and the United States will hold another meeting by mid-March.

Tillerson met with President Tayyip Erdogan and had a “productive and open” talk on late Thursday, according to a U.S. State Department spokesman traveling with Tillerson.

Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by David Dolan

Image may contain: 3 people, people standing, beard and outdoor

Demonstrators chant anti-US slogans during a rally near the building where Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in Ankara, Turkey, Friday, Feb. 16, 2018. The group protested U.S. support to Syrian Kurdish militia, known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG_ the top U.S. ally in the fight against the Islamic State. Turkey considers them a “terrorist” group linked to Kurdish rebels fighting inside Turkey. AP Photo)

***************************************

Erdoğan conveys Turkey’s regional priorities to Tillerson in meeting

ANKARA

Erdoğan conveys Turkey’s regional priorities to Tillerson in meetingTurkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Feb. 15 “clearly” told U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about Turkey’s expectations on Syria and Iraq as well as the fight against terror in an over three-hour meeting in Ankara, presidential sources have said.

According to a Turkish presidential source, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on talking to the media, Erdoğan and Tillerson also exchanged views on the fight against terrorism.

During their meeting at the presidential complex, Erdoğan “clearly” told Tillerson about Turkey’s priorities and expectations from the U.S. on bilateral ties and regional developments, the source added.

Meanwhile, Tillerson and Erdoğan had a “productive, open conversation” about a mutually beneficial way to improve U.S.-Turkey relations, a State Department spokesman travelling with Tillerson said.

The meeting, which was closed to the media, started at 7:40 p.m. and lasted for three hours and 15 minutes.

Tillerson is on a two-day working visit to Turkey.

He is expected to meet his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on Feb. 16 to discuss bilateral relations, particularly the U.S. support for the People’s Protection Units (YPG), and international developments.

The meeting is expected to be followed by a joint news conference.

ErdoğanTillersonAnkara

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkish-president-us-secretary-of-state-meet-in-ankara-127410

Merkel says hurdles remain to rebuild frayed Turkey ties

February 15, 2018

AFP

© DPA/AFP | Chancellor Angela Merkel Thursday told Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim that hurdles remain toward restoring damaged relations while a German-Turkish journalist remains in jail

BERLIN (AFP) – Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday told Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim that hurdles remain on the path to restoring damaged relations while a German-Turkish journalist remains in jail.Speaking at a Berlin joint press conference with Yildirim, Merkel said that both sides “have an interest in improving ties — possibly on the basis of shared values, but that isn’t easy right now”.

She reiterated German concerns about the rule of law in NATO partner Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government responded to a 2016 failed coup attempt with mass arrests.

“We know our bilateral relations have entered choppy waters and to a degree are still there, but we’re trying step by step to resolve the cases”, she said.

Merkel pointed to the high-profile case of Die Welt correspondent Deniz Yucel — who the previous day marked one year in Turkish custody — and other German citizens Berlin says are held for political reasons.

Such detentions had “clouded” relations and marked a continuing “burden”, she said.

Yildirim said Turkish courts were working through a huge backlog of cases but voiced hope that Yucel would soon face a court, adding that any hearing offered a measure of “hope”.

The premier insisted on the independence of Turkish courts and added: “We do not want this case to hurt … relations between Germany and Turkey”.

Merkel was also cool on Turkey’s hopes of joining an EU customs union, saying the bloc first needed “to be more convinced of progress on the rule of law”, where there had been “no developments” recently.

Both leaders also discussed Turkey’s military incursion into northern Syria’s Afrin region against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) Kurdish militia.

The press conference was disrupted by a journalist with a Kurdish news site who held up photos of conflict casualties.

Yildirim dismissed them as “propaganda” and said they depicted “other events”.

“If you want to know what’s really going on in Afrin, go over there and you’ll see what’s really going on there,” he said.

He also stressed that, amid Syria’s war and refugee crisis, “we have welcomed 3.5 million Syrians, we have shared our bread with them … Our hands are clean, we know what we are doing.”

Tillerson In Turkey Hoping To Ease Tensions Between Erdogan, U.S.

February 15, 2018

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shake hands before their talks at the presidential palace in Ankara, Turkey. Tillerson started a two-day trip to Turkey amid growing tensions between the two NATO allies. (AP)
ANKARA: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Turkey on Thursday for talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, seeking to ease tensions between the NATO allies that reached new heights over Ankara’s ongoing operation inside Syria.
.
A prime task of President Donald Trump’s top diplomat will be to allay Turkish anger over US policy in Syria, a dispute which has ignited the biggest crisis in bilateral ties since the 2003 Iraq war.
.
The former chief of energy giant Exxon Mobil, who is on a multi-leg tour of the Middle East, headed to talks with Erdogan at his presidential palace after landing in Ankara from Beirut.
.
Tillerson will meet Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Friday morning.
.
Turkey’s operation against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) Kurdish militia in the Afrin region of Syria has added a potentially insurmountable new problem to an increasingly rough bilateral relationship.
.
Analysts said the level of tension was similar to 2003 when Turkey refused to let US troops operate from its territory for the Iraq war, or even the aftermath of Ankara’s invasion of Cyprus in 1974.
.
Turkey’s operation against the YPG, which Ankara blacklists as a terror group, has seen Turkish troops fighting a militia which is closely allied with the US in the battle against Daesh militants.
.
Speaking in Beirut hours before his meeting with Erdogan, Tillerson denied Washington ever gave heavy weaponry to the YPG and thus could not gather up such arms, as desired by Ankara.
.
“We have never given heavy arms to the YPG so there is none to take back,” Tillerson said.
.
Erdogan earlier this month accused Washington of sending in thousands of truckloads and planeloads of weapons to the YPG in Syria, asking why the US still had a presence there if the militants had been defeated.
Moreover, Turkey said on Thursday it had demanded the US expel the YPG from forces it backs in Syria.
..
“We demanded this relationship be ended, I mean we want them to end all the support given to the Syrian arm of PKK, the YPG,” Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli told reporters in a briefing in Brussels, a day after meeting US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on the sidelines of a NATO meeting.
.
“We demanded this structure be removed from SDF,” he said.
.
And Erdogan has further upped the ante by warning US troops to leave Manbij, a YPG-held town east of Afrin, raising fears of a clash between the allies.
.
He also warned that the US risked being dealt an “Ottoman slap” in Syria — a backhand thwack which, according to legend, could kill an opponent at a stroke.
.
For Ankara, the YPG is a branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is blacklisted as a terror outfit by the US and the EU.
.
But for Washington, the YPG is an ally against Daesh militants and Turkey’s operation is a distraction from efforts to ensure the extremists are permanently defeated.
.
Speaking ahead of the visit, a senior State Department official said “eyes had to be on” the defeat of Daesh.
.
“It’s complicated enough. Let’s not make it more so.”
.
But Cavusoglu this week warned Washington that ties were at a “critical point” at which relations would “be fixed or… completely damaged.”
.
The squabble over Syria is, however, just one of a litany of issues burdening Turkey-US relations.
.
Ties were damaged after the failed coup of 2016 with Turkey stung by a perceived lack of US solidarity and angered by Washington’s refusal to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Pennsylvania-based cleric blamed for ordering the putsch.
.
There is still no US ambassador to Turkey after the departure of John Bass last year, and it was only in December that the two sides ended a row following tit-for-tat suspensions of visa services.
.
Last month, Ankara reacted furiously to the conviction in New York of Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla on charges of violating sanctions against Iran.
.
And Washington has expressed concern that several of its citizens — as well as at least two Turkish employees of US missions — have been caught up in the post-coup crackdown.
.
Last week, NASA scientist Serkan Golge, a dual national, was jailed for seven-and-a-half years for being a member of Gulen’s movement, with the State Department saying he had been convicted “without credible evidence.”
.
Another case is that of US pastor Andrew Brunson, who ran a church in Izmir, who has been held on similar charges since October 2016.
.
Such tensions have hit Turkish public opinion, with 83 percent holding unfavorable views of the US, a Center for American Progress poll showed this week.

Tillerson heads to Turkey to ease tensions over Syria

February 15, 2018

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Turkey’s operation “detracted” from the fight against Daesh terrorists. (AFP)
ANKARA: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives in Turkey on Thursday seeking to ease tensions with its NATO ally that have reached fresh heights over Ankara’s ongoing operation inside Syria.
.
During his two-day trip to the Turkish capital, Tillerson — who last visited in July 2017 — will hold talks with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
.
Turkey’s operation against a Kurdish militia in Syria has added a potentially insurmountable new problem to the litany of issues clouding the relationship between Washington and Ankara.
.
Analysts said the level of tension was similar to 2003 when Turkey refused to let US troops operate from its territory for the Iraq war, or even the aftermath of Ankara’s invasion of Cyprus in 1974.
.
Turkey’s operation against the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara blacklists as a terror group, has seen troops fighting a militia which is closely allied with the US in the battle against extremists.
.
And Erdogan has further upped the ante by warning US troops to steer clear of Manbij, a YPG-held town east of Afrin where the main operation is happening, raising fears of a clash.
.
“We are going to go to Manbij and if they are there, it’s too bad for them,” a senior Turkish official said.
.
When a US commander told the New York Times it would respond “aggressively” to any attack by Turkey, Erdogan didn’t mince his words.
.
“It’s very clear that those who make such remarks have never experienced an Ottoman slap,” he said, using the term for a backhander which, according to legend, could kill an opponent in one stroke.
.
For Ankara, the YPG is linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is blacklisted as a terror outfit by the US and the EU.
But for Washington, the YPG is an ally.
.
On Tuesday, Tillerson said Turkey’s operation “detracted” from the fight against Daesh terrorists, saying Kurdish fighters had been “diverted” from where they were really needed in order to fight in Afrin.
.
Former State Department official Amanda Sloat said Washington did not appear to have “developed a clear way forward on Syria nor determined how its plans address Turkish security concerns.”
.
And if Ankara expected any clarity from US officials on the way forward in Syria, it would be “disappointed,” said Sloat, now a senior fellow at the US-based Brookings Institution.
.
Speaking ahead of the visit, a senior State Department official said “eyes had to be on” the defeat of Daesh.
.
“It’s complicated enough. Let’s not make it more so.”
.
But Cavusoglu warned Washington that ties were at a “critical point” where relations would “be fixed or… completely damaged.”
.
Ties were damaged after the failed coup of 2016 with Turkey stung by a perceived lack of US solidarity and angered by its intransigence over the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, a Pennsylvania-based cleric blamed for ordering the putsch.
.
There is still no US ambassador to Turkey after the departure of John Bass last year, and it was only in December that the two sides ended a row following tit-for-tat suspensions of visa services.
.
Last month, Ankara reacted furiously to the conviction in New York of Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla on charges of violating sanctions against Iran.
.
And Washington has expressed concern that several of its citizens, as well as Turkish employees of US missions, have been caught up in the post-coup crackdown.
.
Last week, NASA scientist Serkan Golge, a dual national, was jailed for seven-and-a-half years for being a member of Gulen’s movement, with the State Department saying he had been convicted “without credible evidence.”
.
Another case is that of US pastor Andrew Brunson, who ran a church in Izmir, who has been held on similar charges since October 2016.
.
Such tensions have affected the Turkish public with 83 percent holding unfavorable views of the US, a Center for American Progress (CAP) poll showed this week.
.
“The Turkish public has long been skeptical of the US, but Erdogan and the (ruling party) have chosen to inflame the public’s anger to score political points,” said CAP’s associate director Max Hoffman.

US and Turkey at odds in Syria ahead of Rex Tillerson’s visit

February 15, 2018

The war in Syria has escalated Washington-Ankara tension. But ahead of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit this week, former US Ambassador to Turkey Ross Wilson told DW he’s hopeful cooler heads will prevail.

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Jamie Jarrard left, thanks Manbij Military Council commander Muhammed Abu Adeel during a visit to a small outpost near the town of Manbij, northern Syria

DW: Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria has further strained the already tense ties between Ankara and Washington. Do you fear that this latest development might lead to an armed confrontation between US and Turkish soldiers in the region?

Ross Wilson: Obviously the war of words has grown dramatic. Anger in Ankara over what Turkish officials regard and see as broken American promises, anger in the Pentagon especially over what they regard as excessive reactions on the Turkish side… This is not leading in a good direction. Having said that, I think the prospects of an armed confrontation are low. Cooler heads, particularly cooler military heads, I think will prevail.

Read more: US-Turkey ties at make-or-break point

Turkey says that US support for the Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG) and the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in northern Syria is in fact strengthening the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and risking the formation of an autonomous region along Turkey’s border controlled by the PKK. Is the US actively pursuing a policy that will help to form a Kurdish autonomous region in northern Syria that would be controlled by the PKK, a group Washington and Ankara both consider a terrorist organization?

If you read what [US Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson said in a speech he gave at the Hoover Institution, he seemed, I thought, pretty clearly not to suggest that the US is in favor of a Kurdish autonomous region or a Kurdish independent region in northern Syria… He talked about Syria’s unity… And I thought that was important. In practice what the US military has been engaged in in Syria has been support of Kurdish aspirations or particularly the PYD’s political and military aspirations in northern Syria. And that is a significant problem.

I don’t think it’s our military’s intention to create an independent Kurdish state. Their focus has been fighting against ISIL (the “Islamic State”) and I think now in securing the border from the leakage of former ISİL fighters out of Syria, which in general is probably a good thing including for Turkey. But the means that they have used to go about it have, I think, ended up being counterproductive to what it was that Secretary Tillerson spoke out about just a number of days ago.

Read more: Who are the Kurds?

 Ross Wilson ARCHIV 2005 (picture alliance/AP Photo)

.

Ross Wilson is the former US ambassador to Turkey

Can the US and Turkey find a way to de-escalate the tension?

I assume that that’s going to be one of the objectives Secretary Tillerson has when he is in Ankara … My own view is that the way forward has got to involve some combination of things. One is a little bit more realism in Washington about what’s possible in Syria, including with respect to the resources that the US is prepared to bring to bear to transform the situation there. The most likely scenario is that [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad is going to remain in power and will regain control over most the country.

By the same token it’s very clear that the Syrian Kurds are emerging from the last two to three years’ fight against ISIL considerably strengthened, and will play a different kind of role in whatever sort of Syria emerges now over the course of the next year or two … They are not going to go anywhere. And that’s a fact that Turkey is not really in a position to prevent, unless Turkey is prepared to take over the whole of northern Syria, which isn’t realistic. And at the same time Turkey does have a legitimate security problem with respect to the PKK. I have been one that has long thought that the PYD is more or less the same thing. In any case it’s a subsidiary or an ally of the PKK at a minimum. And the way forward needs to deal with those three realities.

Tillerson and Erdogan (picture alliance/dpa/Prime Minister's Press Service)

Tillerson visited Turkey twice during his first year in office

We are witnessing a growing rift between the two countries, who are NATO allies. Many Turks suspect that the 2016 coup attempt was backed by Washington. Several US consulate employees are still under arrest and US politicians are voicing concerns over President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s authoritarian rule.

Bilateral tensions and deep concerns about the domestic developments in Turkey are important impediments. But Syria is the most important issue. If the US and Turkey can find a reasonably cohesive way forward with respect to Syria, the other problems are more or less manageable, they have been managed for the last couple of years. It is extremely important and good that Secretary Tillerson has included Turkey on his mission to the region, it’s good that National Security Advisor [H.R.] McMaster took the time to visit Turkey. A frank exchange of views is important. Tillerson’s visit can offer an opportunity to try to reset things if cool-headedness would prevail.

Read more: NATO says US and Turkey aiming to avoid direct clashes in Afrin

Following McMaster’s recent trip to Ankara, both sides reaffirmed their long-term strategic partnership. But can you still describe this relationship as a strategic one?

Turkey remains a member of NATO and that makes it an important strategic partner for the US by definition. Turkey is an extremely important asset for the US in a very, very difficult part of the world. By the same token, the US connection and the alliance connection is extremely important for Turkey — a huge asset that gives Turkey a kind of importance in the region. It’s profoundly in the interest of both countries to keep that alliance intact, even while we sort out some tough issues … It’s clearly a less friendly relationship than it used to be but it’s extremely important to both Washington and to Ankara.

Ross Wilson is a distinguished senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center. He served as the US ambassador to Turkey from 2005 to 2008.

http://www.dw.com/en/us-and-turkey-at-odds-in-syria-ahead-of-rex-tillersons-visit/a-42593549

Syria’s Four-front War and the Unprecedented Chaos It Has Created

February 14, 2018

Within a week, al-Qaida-affiliated rebels shot down a Russian jet, Kurdish fighters downed a Turkish helicopter, Israel downed an Iranian drone and the Syrian army shot down an Israeli F-16

.
This Jan. 28, 2018 file photo, a pro-Turkey Syrian fighter waves on Bursayah hill, which separates the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin from the Turkey-controlled town of Azaz, Syria
This Jan. 28, 2018 file photo, a pro-Turkey Syrian fighter waves on Bursayah hill, which separates the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin from the Turkey-controlled town of Azaz, Syria — AP Photo, File

As Syrian President Bashar Assad and his allies push toward final victory and the fight against the Islamic State group draws to an end, new fronts have opened up, threatening an even broader confrontation among regional and world powers.

While large areas of the country have stabilized, giving the impression of a war that is winding down, violence has exploded in other areas with renewed ferocity, killing and injuring hundreds of people in a new and unpredictable spiral of bloodshed. The United States, Israel and Turkey all have deepened their involvement, seeking to protect their interests in the new Syria order.

The recent chaos has been exceptional: within a week, al-Qaida-affiliated rebels shot down a Russian jet, Kurdish fighters downed a Turkish helicopter, Israel downed an Iranian drone and the Syrian army shot down an Israeli F-16.

Syria areas of control as of February 10, 2018
Syria areas of control as of February 10, 2018Reuters

Meanwhile, a joint Russian and Syrian air campaign killed hundreds of civilians in the rebel-held enclaves of Eastern Ghouta and in the northern province of Idlib, amid accusations that the Syrian government is once again using toxic agents such as chlorine against its opponents.

In the east, the U.S. military launched rare airstrikes on pro-government fighters following a coordinated assault on U.S.-backed forces accompanied by U.S. advisers. That has increased fears that American troops meant to fight Islamic State militants increasingly are being dragged into the war.

Over the weekend, a battle erupted along Syria’s border with Israel, which shot down an Iranian drone that infiltrated its airspace before one of its own fighter jets was downed by Syrian air defense missiles. It was the most serious flare-up between the neighbors since fighting began in Syria in 2011.

All this happened while Turkey’s air and ground operation against Kurdish fighters in northwestern Syria rages on with no end in sight.

“The specter of the world’s worst civil war in decades is becoming demonstrably worse by the week — and even more complicated by the actions of outside forces — creating a perfect storm of chaos and suffering in Syria,” the Soufan Center said in an analysis of the situation.

Here is a look at some of the new and old fronts in Syria’s war:

Turkey’s war on the Kurds

Turkey opened a new front in Syria’s nearly 7-year-old war on Jan. 20, launching an offensive against the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia in the northwestern enclave of Afrin. It is the latest effort by Turkey to limit Kurdish expansion along its border with Syria and aims to drive out the militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which Turkey considers to be a “terrorist” organization.

The Turkish campaign has strained relations between NATO allies Ankara and Washington, which has partnered with the Syrian Kurds in the fight against the Islamic State group. Turkey’s president is threatening to expand the offensive east, toward the town of Manbij, where U.S. troops maintain bases, while U.S. officials accuse Turkey of hampering the fight against IS with its Afrin operation.

Residents speak of a rapidly worsening humanitarian situation, adding that medical supplies are running low. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says around 80 civilians have been killed so far, along with more than 160 Kurdish fighters. Turkey says it has lost 31 soldiers in the slow-moving offensive.

Assad’s war on the rebels

The Syrian government and its ally, Russia, have in the past two weeks dramatically escalated attacks on two of the largest and most important remaining opposition-held areas, in Idlib province in northwestern Syria and on Eastern Ghouta, a besieged area near the capital of Damascus.

The sprawling region, where rebels launch rockets on Damascus, has been a particular thorn in the government’s side for years, and Assad appears determined to recapture it at all costs.

The recent violence has left hundreds dead and wounded amid relentless airstrikes that have transformed the besieged area into a death trap. In Idlib, the bombardment has hit hospitals and created yet another wave of displaced civilians.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called on Saturday for urgent international action, saying the past week in Syria “has been one of the bloodiest periods of the entire conflict.”

The commissioner said the “no-holds-barred nature” of the assault included attacks on nine medical facilities and the death of 277 civilians between Feb. 4 and Feb. 9 in both Idlib and Eastern Ghouta. There were also reports of the government using toxic agents in residential areas.

In Eastern Ghouta, nearly 400,000 residents are trapped by the violence and a tightening government siege. At least 2 million people live In Idlib, the largest area controlled by the opposition.

Israel’s war on Iran

The downing of an Israeli fighter jet this weekend by Syrian air defenses suggest yet another frontier in the conflict is opening up, risking a wider and possibly regional conflagration.

Israel, which has struck targets inside Syria more than a 100 times in the course of Syria’s war, with raids often launched from neighboring Lebanon’s airspace, has been warning of an Iranian buildup in Syria for months, vowing to prevent Tehran from building bases near its border. On Saturday, Israel’s military said it shot down an Iranian drone that took off from a base in Syria and infiltrated Israeli airspace. It carried out about 12 strikes targeting Syrian army and Iranian sites in Syria before Syrian air defenses shot down an F-16, marking the first time an Israeli jet was downed since 1982.

According to the Syrian government and its allies, the downing of the Israeli jet signals new rules of engagement in Syria, following more than 100 Israeli strikes that went without any retaliation.

“The new phase in the Syrian conflict makes the anti-ISIS war look like a stroll in the park. This has the potential to turn into a regional war,” said Bilal Saab, an expert at the Washington-based Middle East Institute. ISIS is an alternative acronym for the Islamic State group.

U.S. war on ISIS

The U.S. policy in Syria has always been vague and often inconsistent. But earlier this year, U.S. officials confirmed Washington’s intention to keep troops indefinitely in northern Syria even after the defeat of IS. The U.S. says it seeks to prevent an IS resurgence as well as to counter Iranian influence in Syria.

But as IS shrinks, the estimated 2,000 U.S. troops stationed in Syria find themselves caught in a highly unpredictable and shifting battlefield, as demonstrated by an unexpected attack by pro-Assad fighters on U.S.-backed forces who were accompanied by U.S. advisers in Deir el-Zour.

The U.S. responded with a deadly barrage of bombs and artillery that U.S. officials say killed about 100 of the attackers. Russian news reports said Tuesday that an unknown number of private military contractors from Russia were among the dead, illustrating the risks foreign forces face on Syria’s crowded battlefields.

Many of the U.S. troops in Syria are operating with local, Kurdish-dominated allies known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, in the eastern oil-producing Deir el-Zour region along the Euphrates River. The area had been a stronghold of IS militants until late last year.

But they are competing for control of Deir el-Zour with Russian-backed Syrian troops that are reinforced by Iranian-supported militias.

Keeping U.S. forces in areas that Assad’s government hopes to reclaim inherently increases the probability of more clashes.

On Tuesday, Russia’s foreign minister accused the U.S. of trying to create a quasi-state in eastern Syria.

Erdogan says US funding of Syrian Kurdish militia to impact Turkey’s decisions — Erdogan threatens “an Ottoman slap.”

February 13, 2018

President Tayyip Erdogan’s comments followed the release of the US Department of Defense’s 2019 budget, which includes funds to train and equip local forces in the fight against Daesh in Syria. (Reuters)
ANKARA: A decision by the US to continue to fund the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia will affect Turkey’s decisions, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday, ahead of a visit this week by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
.
US officials have said that Tillerson expects to have difficult conversations when he visits Turkey on Thursday and Friday, given that the NATO allies have starkly diverging interests in Syria.
.
Turkey has been enraged by US support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara sees as a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Washington has backed the YPG in the fight against Daesh in Syria.
.
“Our ally’s decision to give financial support to the YPG … will surely affect the decisions we will take,” Erdogan said in a speech to members of his ruling AK Party in parliament.
.
His comments followed the release of the US Department of Defense’s 2019 budget, which includes funds to train and equip local forces in the fight against Daesh in Syria.
.
Turkey last month launched an incursion into Syria, which it calls “Operation Olive Branch” to sweep the YPG from its southern border. It has also threatened to press on to the Syrian town of Manbij, under the control of a YPG-led force, and has warned American troops stationed there not to get in the way.
.
Washington says it has no plans to withdraw its soldiers from Manbij and two US commanders visited the town last week to reinforce that message.
.
“It is very clear that those who say ‘we will respond aggressively if you hit us’ have never experienced an Ottoman slap,” Erdogan said in parliament.
.
That was an apparent reference to comments made by US Lt. Gen. Paul Funk during a visit to Manbij.