Posts Tagged ‘Syria’

Afghan Taliban reject talks with U.S. in Pakistan

January 19, 2019

The Afghan Taliban rejected reports in the Pakistani media that they were prepared to resume meetings with U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad and repeated their refusal to deal directly with the Afghan government.

Pakistani newspapers and television stations reported that a meeting in Islamabad was in prospect following discussions between Khalilzad and Pakistani officials including Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday.

Senior Taliban leaders said that regional powers including Pakistan had approached them and wanted them to meet the U.S. delegation in Islamabad and also include the Afghan government in the peace process but that the approaches had been rejected.

Zalmay Khalilzad met with Pakistan’s foreign minister to discuss the Afghan peace process. (File/AFP)

“We wanted to make it clear that we will not hold any meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid in a statement.

Talks between the two sides have stalled after the Taliban accused Khalilzad of straying from the agreed agenda and there is no clarity on when they may resume.

Imran Khan lashed out at US President Donald Trump on November 18, 2018, following his remarks that Pakistan doesn’t “do a damn thing” for the United States despite billions of dollars in US aid for the South Asian nation. (Faisal Mahmood/REUTERS)

“We have made it clear again and again that we would never hold any meeting with the Afghan government as we know that they are not capable of addressing our demands,” said one senior Taliban leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Afghan Taliban

The United States says any settlement in Afghanistan must be between the internationally recognized Afghan government and the Taliban, who have so far refused to talk to an administration they describe as an illegitimate puppet regime.

The Taliban leader said peace talks with the U.S. delegation could resume if they were assured that only three issues would be discussed – a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, an exchange of prisoners and lifting a ban on the movement of Taliban leaders.

Khalilzad arrived in Islamabad on Thursday and met Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan as well as the Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and other officials.

Related image

Shah Mehmood Qureshi, second from the rights

“The two sides reviewed developments post Abu Dhabi, in order to take the Afghan peace process forward,” a foreign office statement said. An Afghan Taliban delegation had a round of talks last month with U.S. officials in Abu Dhabi.

The statement didn’t give any further details on the talks, but several local TV channels reported that Pakistan agreed to host the next round of talks between the Afghan Taliban and the United States in Islamabad.

Khalilzad, an Afghan-born veteran U.S. diplomat who served as George W. Bush’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations, was named by the Trump administration four months ago as a special envoy to negotiate peace.

Washington has long been pushing Islamabad to lean on Taliban leaders, who it says are based in Pakistan, to bring them to the negotiating table.

It often accuses the south Asian nation of covertly sheltering Taliban leaders, an accusation Islamabad vehemently denies.

The United States, which had more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan at its peak during the first term of former President Barack Obama, withdrew most of them in 2014 but still keeps around 14,000 there.

Additional reporting by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Michael Perry



Donald Trump, the ‘Unprecedented President’ and The Rudderless West

January 19, 2019

Remember the hope that Donald Trump would be mostly tough talk, but little action? At the halfway-mark of his first term it is time to acknowledge the huge impact he’s already had — and wonder how much more could come.

US President Donald Trump at a press conference in the White House (REUTERS)

In his first two years in office, US President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the landmark international nuclear arms agreement with Iran, out of the signature global climate accord and out of the historic trade pact with Asia, the so called Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

He launched a bruising trade war with China, slapped tariffs on America’s European allies and ordered a speedy withdrawal of all US forces from Syria.

Image result for donald trump, macron, merkel, pictures

He signed into law one of the largest tax overhauls in recent history, instituted a sweeping crackdown on undocumented immigrants and triggered the longest government shutdown in US history.

Read moreCounting the cost of the US government shutdown

And he is in the process of remaking US courts by appointing more federal judges to the bench than any of his recent predecessors at the same time.

‘Very negative effect on American soft power’

These are only some of the most striking examples of the tangible impact Trump has had. And it is important to note that all of these moves, while often rolled out erratically, should not have come as a surprise to anyone as all of them were campaign promises made by then-candidate Trump.

Taken together they have already changed how the US is viewed abroad.

“I think Trump has had a very negative effect on American foreign policy and certainly on American soft power around the world,” saidJoseph Nye, the eminent Harvard University international relations scholar who coined the term soft power.

Because of its potential long-term negative consequences for international efforts to combat global warming, Nye ranks the US withdrawal from the Paris climate compact among Trump’s most damaging political decisions yet.

Read moreHow right-wing nationalism fuels climate denial

Meanwhile Washington’s exit from the Iran nuclear deal, which has poisoned relations with America’s European allies, and the Trump administration’s increasingly tough stance versus Teheran are among the most pernicious short-term decisions so far, said Nye.

Read moreUS policy spreads gloom in Iran

A man carrying the Iranian and US flags (Getty Images/AFP/C. Barria)Trump’s exit from the Iran nuclear deal could still backfire badly

‘Nobody as unpredictable as Trump’

Add to Trump’s controversial policy decisions his mercurial style and his penchant for speaking falsehoods and he truly is a president in a league of his own, said Nye.

“We have had dangerous and difficult presidents — there is Richard Nixon or Lyndon Johnson. But nobody who has been as unpredictable or as untruthful as Trump.”

Trump’s first two years in office have proven that he really is an outlier among American presidents, concurred Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.

“I would just say he is the unprecedented president. He is completely off the grid,” she said. “He is not like anything we have ever seen.”

While the US has seen its share of demagogues, noted Perry, they never made it into the White House, but were prevented to rise to the highest office through the help of the US electoral system, which by design is not a direct democracy.

System failure led to demagogue in the White House

She added that Trump’s election — he won the Electoral College tally, not the popular vote — was a worrying sign of system failure.

“The founders wanted the Electoral College to be a check exactly against this kind of person — a demagogue in the White House, in the presidency.”

What distinguishes Trump from earlier rabble rousers is his access to and affinity for the internet and social media which allows him to communicate his messages unfiltered to millions of his followers, said Perry who argues that Trump’s rhetoric bears parallels to the Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

Read moreThe Donald Trump effect: Core supporters hungry for more

Protests in Washington against the shutdown (picture alliance/AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)Can the country survive another four years of Donald Trump?

‘Not sure we can survive eight years of this’

“He borrows a page from Joseph Goebbels about telling the big lie over and over again in a very effective way,” said Perry.

Asked what to expect for the second half — plus another four years of Trump should he get reelected — Nye advised to brace for even more unpredictability and unpleasant surprises.

Perry was even more unequivocal. “My fear is we can survive four years, but I am not sure we can survive eight years of this.”

ISIS Attack in Syria Kills 4 Americans, Raising New Worries About Troop Withdrawal

January 17, 2019

Four Americans were among 19 people killed in Syria on Wednesday in a suicide bombing that was claimed by the Islamic State, just weeks after President Trump ordered the withdrawal of United States forces and declared that the extremist group had been defeated.

The attack targeted an American military convoy in the northern city of Manbij while troops were inside the Palace of the Princes, a restaurant where they often stopped to eat during patrols, residents said. While the Americans were inside, a nearby suicide attacker wearing an explosive vest blew himself up.

The bombing raised new questions about Mr. Trump’s surprise decision last month to end the American ground war in Syria. Critics of the president’s plans, including members of his own party, said Mr. Trump’s claim of victory over the Islamic State may have emboldened its fighters and encouraged Wednesday’s strike.

It was at least the sixth major attack by the Islamic State in less than a month, according to one United States official, and was one of the deadliest days that the American-led coalition had suffered in the fight against the group.

Mr. Trump’s withdrawal announcement, made over the objections of his top national security officials, “set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we’re fighting,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and a prominent Trump ally who has nonetheless criticized the military drawdown.

“I saw this in Iraq. And I’m now seeing it in Syria,” Mr. Graham said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday.

Even as the White House offered condolences over the deaths, Vice President Mike Pence insisted in a statement that the Islamic State had, in fact, been defeated.

“Thanks to the courage of our armed forces, we have crushed the ISIS caliphate and devastated its capabilities,” Mr. Pence said. “As we begin to bring our troops home, the American people can be assured, for the sake of our soldiers, their families and our nation, we will never allow the remnants of ISIS to re-establish their evil and murderous caliphate — not now, not ever.”

There are about 2,000 American troops in Syria. Patrick M. Shanahan, the acting defense secretary, declined to comment when asked if the attack would affect the withdrawal plans.

The American casualties included two service members, a civilian employee of the Defense Intelligence Agency and a military contractor, according to the United States Central Command and a Pentagon official. Three other service members were wounded.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll from the explosion at 19 — 10 Syrian civilians and five local fighters in addition to the four Americans.

Surveillance footage posted on social media showed a street with cars double-parked in front of the restaurant and pedestrians on the sidewalk. Then came the blast, consuming the sidewalk in a giant fireball and sending passers-by running for cover.

A statement from the Islamic State, released through its Amaq news agency, said that the suicide attacker detonated his explosive vest to target a patrol of coalition soldiers and local militiamen near the restaurant in Manbij.

An image grab taken from a video published by Hawar News Agency (ANHA) on January 16, 2019, shows an unidentified member of security forces at the scene of a suicide attack in the northern Syrian town of Manbij [ANHA/AFP]

An image grab taken from a video published by Hawar News Agency (ANHA) on January 16, 2019, shows an unidentified member of security forces at the scene of a suicide attack in the northern Syrian town of Manbij [ANHA/AFP]

The city has been ruled by nearly all sides fighting in the Syrian civil war that broke out in 2011. The United States began deploying troops to fight the Islamic State in Syria in 2015; a year later, an American-backed militia of Kurdish and Arab fighters ousted the extremists from Manbij.

Since then, Manbij has largely been governed and protected by American-backed local councils. While the city is hundreds of miles from any territory held by the Islamic State, it sits next to areas controlled by Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies. American forces maintain a number of bases near Manbij and run frequent patrols.

The bombing on Wednesday puts Mr. Trump in a tough position: He has long promised to pull the forces out, but also threatened in a Twitter message on Sunday to hit the Islamic State again, and “hard,” if the group lashed out.

Read the rest:




“U.S. service members were killed during an explosion while conducting a routine patrol in Syria today. We are still gathering information and will share additional details at a later time,” a tweet from Operation Inherent Resolve’s spokesperson said.
The names of the two US service members will be withheld for 24 hours until next of kin is notified in accordance with DOD policy, according to CENTCOM’s statement.
The ISIS-affiliated Amaq agency said the attack in the northern city of Manbij was carried out by a suicide bomber with an explosive vest.
“An explosion in Manbij’s busy market street, initial reports of casualties,” spokesman of the Manbij military council Shervan Darwish wrote on Twitter.
ISIS didn’t provide any proof it was responsible for the attack.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said President Donald Trump has been briefed on the situation and issued a statement on the attack later Wednesday.
“Our deepest sympathies and love go out to the families of the brave American heroes who were killed today in Syria. We also pray for the soldiers who were wounded in the attack. Our service members and their families have all sacrificed so much for our country,” it said.
Vice President Mike Pence has also been briefed, according to a tweet from his press secretary.
However, Pence made no mention of the attack or the deaths of US service members while making remarks at the Global Chiefs of Mission conference at the US State Department Wednesday, claiming “The caliphate has crumbled, and ISIS has been defeated.”
A White House official said the administration had not publicly confirmed the deaths of US service members when Pence made his remarks even though the coalition against ISIS tweeted a message confirming there had been US deaths nearly an hour before his speech.
Pence released his own statement after making those remarks saying, “We will never allow the remnants of ISIS to reestablish their evil and murderous caliphate — not now, not ever. “
“President Trump and I condemn the terrorist attack in Syria that claimed American lives and our hearts are with the loved ones of the fallen. We honor their memory and we will never forget their service and sacrifice,” he said.
However, he also indicated that the White House still intends to withdraw US troops from Syria.
“Thanks to the courage of our Armed Forces, we have crushed the ISIS caliphate and devastated its capabilities. As we begin to bring our troops home, the American people can be assured, for the sake of our soldiers, their families, and our nation, we will never allow the remnants of ISIS to reestablish their evil and murderous caliphate — not now, not ever,” the statement added.
The attack comes less than a month after Trump announced that US troops would withdraw from Syria. In making his announcement, Trump declared in a video released on Twitter: “We have won against ISIS. We’ve beaten them and we’ve beaten them badly. We’ve taken back the land and now it’s time for our troops to come back home.”
The US has about 2,000 troops in Syria, with no specific date for their withdrawal. Last week, the US began withdrawing some military ground equipment from Syria, according to an administration official with direct knowledge of the operation.
Following Wednesday’s attack, two US officials told CNN that there are no current plans to reverse Trump’s decision to begin withdrawing US troops from Syria.
The President continues to believe that it’s time for US troops to return home, the officials said. Specific withdrawal plans remain contingent on events on the ground, including the strength of ISIS but also security guarantees for the Kurds.
Trump met with with several Republican Senators including Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Joni Ernst on Wednesday. The meeting was scheduled before Wednesday’s attack.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was a harsh critic of Trump’s plans to bring home US troops from Syria when the decision was announced earlier in December, said Wednesday that he is concerned that the President’s statements about withdrawing from Syria have emboldened the enemy.
“My concern, by the statements made by President Trump, is that you set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we’re fighting. You make people we’re trying to help wonder about us. And as they get bolder, the people we’re trying to help are going to get more uncertain. I saw this in Iraq. And I’m now seeing it in Syria,” Graham said during impromptu remarks at a Judiciary Committee hearing on Attorney General nominee William Barr.
“Every American wants our troops to come home, but I think all of us want to make sure that when they do come home, we’re safe,” he added. “So I would hope the President would look long at hard at where he’s headed in Syria. I know people are frustrated, but we’re never going to be safe here unless we’re willing to help people over there who will stand up against this radical ideology.”
During his surprise visit to Iraq on December 26, Trump was warned by military commanders that — despite his claims — ISIS was not entirely defeated in Syria. People familiar with the President’s reaction said the conversation was eye-opening for a leader who, days earlier, claimed the terror group was defeated “badly” in the country.
The discussion occurred inside a tan tent at the al-Asad airbase west of Baghdad and included the US Ambassador to Iraq Douglas Silliman, Lieutenant General Paul LaCamera, national security adviser John Bolton, and the first lady Melania Trump, along with other officials.
Trump was told that pockets of ISIS militants remained in the Euphrates River valley and that the US military had not yet eliminated all of their strongholds. Commanders told him the US had been successful in taking back other areas but that the job was not finished.
The people familiar with the conversation described it as sobering, and said it broke through to Trump in a way his conversations with national security officials in Washington had not. Coming days after Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria, it centered partly on the remaining challenges of going after ISIS fighters in pockets of Syria.
In addition to the briefing from the commanders, Trump found the massive security apparatus on the trip surprising — something his advisers told him was reflective of the remaining challenges against ISIS.
Still, it remains unclear whether Wednesday’s attack will impact Trump’s decision to pull US forces from Syria as top administration officials continue to qualify the terms and timing of a pullout — altering the President’s December 19 assertion that forces would leave “now.”
After Trump declared that the US would pull troops from Syria and a US Defense official told CNN that planning was underway for a “full” and “rapid” withdrawal, national security adviser John Bolton began adding conditions that could indefinitely delay a troop departure and has refused to discuss timelines.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also avoided offering a specific timeline but insisted in a Cairo speech last week that under the Trump administration, the US is a stalwart presence in the Mideast. He told reporters separately that “there’s no contradiction whatsoever” in the US policy on Syria, arguing that “this is a story made up by the media.”
At the same time, the top US diplomat has denied allies were confused about the US withdrawal from Syria. “I think everyone understands what the United States is doing,” Pompeo said. “At least the senior leaders in their governments do.”
Yet on the ground and in diplomatic circles, Trump’s decision landed with explosive effect.
US allies in the region were blindsided. Two diplomatic sources say their countries were not consulted or informed and the news came as a total surprise.
But discussions about a US withdrawal have continued this week.
Trump and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan discussed “ongoing cooperation in Syria as US forces begin to withdraw” during a phone call Monday, just one day after Trump threatened to “devastate Turkey economically” if the NATO-allied country attacks Kurds in the region.

See also:

Deaths of US troops in Syria can be seen as underscoring or undercutting Trump’s withdrawal decision

Taliban to quit peace talks if US troops are not pulled out of Afghanistan

January 17, 2019

Trump’s weakness in Syria strengthened Taliban resolve….

“We had 40 years of war so one should not expect a quick resolution of the crisis. The first priority for peace is for Afghanistan and Pakistan to settle their historical differences.”

The Taliban has objected to government involvement in its meetings with US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and wants foreign troops to leave Afghanistan. (Courtesy Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

The Taliban said on Tuesday they would call off peace talks with the US if its troops were not pulled out of Afghanistan. The threat came as the US special envoy landed in Kabul.

Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Kabul to brief the government and politicians on his engagement in the region regarding the peace process.

Last month, it was reported that President Donald Trump had ordered the withdrawal of thousands of troops.

But there has been speculation the US wants to keep some military bases in Afghanistan, and that it is pushing the Taliban to hold direct talks with Kabul.

The Taliban has objected to government involvement in its meetings with Khalilzad and wants foreign troops to leave Afghanistan.

The armed group said the US must pursue the peace talks with “sincere intentions” or it would be forced to stall all talks and negotiations until its “unlawful pressures and maneuvering” ended.

“The United States agreed during the Doha meeting in November to discuss the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and prevent Afghanistan from being used against other countries in the upcoming meeting,” the Taliban said, accusing the US of “backing out from that agenda and unilaterally adding new subjects.”

The US Embassy in Kabul said Khalilzad was meeting President Ashraf Ghani, CEO Abdullah, and political leaders to discuss the next steps in efforts to support and facilitate an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.

His arrival in Kabul followed stops in India, the UAE and China.

Mohammad Akbari, one of those at the meeting, said Khalilzad had expressed optimism about his efforts and regional cooperation but had not revealed why he was so hopeful.

Khalilzad later tweeted about the “good session” in Kabul.

“We discussed the peace process & all agree that progress depends on Afghans sitting with each other, negotiating a future for all Afghan people,” he said.

The US Embassy said the goal was to promote dialogue among Afghans about how to end the conflict, and to encourage parties to come together at the negotiating table to reach a political settlement in which every Afghan citizen “enjoyed equal rights and responsibilities under the rule of law.”

Ahmad Zia Rafat, a political science professor, said peace talks in a normal country faced ups and downs but there would be more hurdles when it came to Afghanistan because of the war’s complexity.

“We had 40 years of war so one should not expect a quick resolution of the crisis. The first priority for peace is for Afghanistan and Pakistan to settle their historical differences,” he told Arab News.

“If you have consensus in a realistic manner between these two countries, then you are depriving the Taliban from a key supporter, long believed to be Pakistan. Then you can forge consensus in the region and reintegrate the Taliban in the political mainstream.”

Arab News

Iran says it will keep military forces in Syria despite Israeli threats

January 16, 2019

Iran will keep military forces in Syria, the head of the elite Revolutionary Guards said on Wednesday, defying Israeli threats that they might be targeted if they do not leave the country.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that Israeli forces would continue to attack Iranians in Syria unless they quickly get out of there.

Image result for Mohammad Ali Jafari, pictures

Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari

“The Islamic Republic of Iran will keep its military advisers, revolutionary forces and its weapons in Syria,” Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the Revolutionary Guards top commander, was quoted as saying by the semi-official ISNA news agency. Jafari called Netanyahu’s threats “a joke”, and warned that the Israeli government “was playing with (a) lion’s tail.”

“You should be afraid of the day that our precision-guided missiles roar and fall on your head,” he said.

Iran and Russia have both backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a seven-year war against rebels and militants, and have sent thousands of soldiers to the country.

Israel, increasingly concerned that its enemy Iran may establish a long-term military presence in neighboring Syria, says it has carried out more than 200 attacks against Iranian targets in Syria in the last two years.

Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israeli warplanes carried out an attack on what he called an Iranian arms cache in Syria.

Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Mark Heinrich


Syria Kurds reject ‘security zone’ under Turkish control

January 16, 2019

Syria’s Kurds on Wednesday rejected a US proposal for a “security zone” under Turkish control along the Syrian side of the two countries’ border.

Senior political leader Aldar Khalil said the Kurds would accept the deployment of UN forces along the separation line between Kurdish fighters and Turkish troops to ward off a threatened offensive.

“Other choices are unacceptable as they infringe on the sovereignty of Syria and the sovereignty of our autonomous region,” Khalil told AFP.

Turkey welcomed the planned withdrawal of some 2,000 US troops from Syria but the future of US-backed Kurdish militia forces there labelled terrorists by Ankara has poisoned US-Turkish ties

Turkey welcomed the planned withdrawal of some 2,000 US troops from Syria but the future of US-backed Kurdish militia forces there labelled terrorists by Ankara has poisoned US-Turkish ties AFP

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that Ankara would set up a “security zone” in northern Syria suggested by US President Donald Trump.

Erdogan’s comments came a day after he had a telephone conversation with Trump to ease tensions after the US leader threatened to “devastate” the Turkish economy if Ankara attacks Kurdish forces in Syria.

Turkey has welcomed Washington’s planned withdrawal of some 2,000 US troops from Syria but the future of US-backed Kurdish militia forces labelled terrorists by Ankara has poisoned ties between the NATO allies.

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) have been the key US ally in the fight against the Islamic State group (IS), taking heavy losses in a campaign now nearing its conclusion, with the jihadists confined to an ever-shrinking enclave of just 15 square kilometres (under six square miles).

Ankara regards the YPG as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has waged a deadly insurgency for self-rule in southeastern Turkey since 1984.

Erdogan said he had a “quite positive” telephone conversation with Trump late on Monday where he reaffirmed that “a 20-mile (30 kilometre) security zone along the Syrian border… will be set up by us.”

The Syrian Kurdish leader said he regretted the US proposal to give Turkey control over the mooted “security zone”.

“Sadly, Trump wants to implement these safe regions through cooperation with Turkey. But any role for Turkey will upset the balance and the region will not be safe,” Khalil said.

“On the contrary, Turkey is a party (to the dispute) and any party cannot guarantee security.”

The Turkish army has launched two major operations in Syria — Euphrates Shield in 2016 against IS jihadists and Syrian Kurdish fighters, and Olive Branch in 2018 targeting the Kurds.

The last offensive saw Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel allies overrun the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in the northwest, one of several the Kurds had governed since 2012.

Critics have accused Turkish troops and their proxies of the military occupation of Syrian sovereign territory.


Netanyahu tells Iran to get out of Syria ‘fast’

January 15, 2019

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday urged Iran to quickly remove its forces from neighboring Syria or face continued attacks on them by Israel.

“Yesterday I heard the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman saying ‘Iran has no military presence in Syria, we only advise them’,” Netanyahu said at a Tel Aviv ceremony to install a new head of Israel’s armed forces.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that they had attacked Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria hundreds of times. (AFP)

“So let me advise them — get out of there fast, because we’ll continue our forceful policy of attacking, as we promised and are doing, fearlessly and relentlessly,” he said.

In a rare public confirmation on Sunday, Netanyahu said Israel had attacked what he described as “Iranian warehouses containing Iranian weapons in the Damascus international airport” over the weekend.

Netanyahu added that Israel had attacked Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria hundreds of times.

Israel has pledged to prevent Iran entrenching itself militarily in Syria, where its arch foe is backing President Bashar Assad’s regime alongside Russia and Hezbollah.

At the ceremony for the new chief of staff, Lt. General Aviv Kochavi, Netanyahu reiterated that Israel’s central security challenge was “Iran and its terror emissaries,” saying the Israeli military had “prevented the military entrenchment of Iran in Syria.”

Tehran denies sending regular troops to fight in Syria, saying it has only provided military advisers and militia fighters from various countries.


Erdogan ‘saddened’ by Trump threat to ‘devastate’ Turkish economy

January 15, 2019

Turkish president discussed possible safe zone for Kurds in phone call with president Trump

By Laura Pitel in Istanbul

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he discussed the idea of setting up a 20-mile safe zone in northern Syria during a “positive” phone call with Donald Trump on Tuesday. Mr Erdogan said that he had been “saddened” by Mr Trump’s threats, issued on Twitter on Sunday night, to “devastate Turkey economically” if it followed through on a threat to attack Kurdish forces in north east Syria.

But he said that the two leaders had reached an understanding “of historic importance” during a telephone conversation on Monday. “It was a positive phone call,” Mr Erdogan said, according to a report of his comments by BBC Turkish. “He once again confirmed his decision to withdraw from Syria.”

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, above, described his phone call regarding safe zones in Syria with US president, Donald Trump, as positive. (AFP)

The Turkish leader said that Mr Trump had raised the prospect of “a safe zone, to be created by us, along the border with Turkey” on the Syrian side. “We agreed that our teams’ discussions on all the subjects on the agenda will continue,” he said. In a tweet after their call, Mr Trump said that he had advised the Turkish president on “where we stand on all matters including our last two weeks of success in fighting the remnants of ISIS, and 20 mile safe zone.”

He added: “Also spoke about economic development between the US & Turkey — great potential to substantially expand!” Turkey has for years supported the idea of a safe zone in northern Syria. Mr Trump appears to have seized upon the idea as a way of containing the backlash after his abrupt announcement last month that US troops would withdraw. Kurdish forces played a central role in the US-led campaign against Isis jihadis.

The forces have warned that the American pullout is a betrayal that leaves them vulnerable to an attack by Turkey, which views Kurdish militias as domestic terrorists who represent a security threat. Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, told reporters in Riyadh this week that discussions on the creation of a buffer zone were ongoing.

“We want to make sure that the folks who fought with us to down [Isis] have security . . . and also that terrorists acting out of Syria aren’t able to attack Turkey,” he said.

“We want a secure border for all the parties.” Some military analysts believe that a negotiated agreement to create such a zone could be a realistic compromise, allowing Turkey to protect its border without triggering a full onslaught by the Turkish military that would risk angering the US.

Many questions remain, however, about who would monitor the area, what would happen if Kurdish armed groups refused to give up territory, and whether the plan would be accepted by the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and the Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who is his most important backer.


Erdogan says discussed Turkey setting up safe zone in Syria with Trump

January 15, 2019

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday he had discussed a safe zone which Turkey would set up in Syria, during a phone call with US President Donald Trump which he described as positive.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, above, described his phone call regarding safe zones in Syria with US president, Donald Trump, as positive. (AFP)

Monday’s call came after Trump, who has announced a US troop withdrawal from northeast Syria, threatened Turkey with economic devastation if Turkish forces attacked a US-backed Kurdish militia there.



Trump, Erdogan discuss secure zone in Syria as Turkey vows to continue fight against Kurdish militia

January 15, 2019

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and US President Donald Trump on Monday discussed the establishment of a secure zone in northern Syria cleared of militia groups, the Turkish presidency said in a statement.

Speaking by phone, the two emphasised the need to complete a roadmap regarding Syria’s border town of Manbij, as well to avoid giving any opportunity to elements seeking to block the planned withdrawal of US forces from Syria, it said.

Earlier, Trump threatened Turkey with economic devastation if it attacked a US-allied Kurdish militia in Syria, and proposed the creation of a safe zone.

In a tweet, Trump also warned the Kurdish forces not to “provoke Turkey.” (File/AFP)

But Turkey vowed to continue fighting the militia  which it views as a terrorist group.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Twitter that there was “no difference” between the Daesh group and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia. “We will continue to fight against them all.”

“Mr @realDonaldTrump It is a fatal mistake to equate Syrian Kurds with the PKK, which is on the US terrorists list, and its Syria branch PYD/YPG,” Kalin also wrote on Twitter in response to Trump’s tweet.

Trump’s decision to pull American troops out of Syria has left the United States’ Kurdish allies vulnerable to an attack from Turkey. Ankara views the Kurdish forces as terrorists aligned with insurgents inside Turkey.

In a tweet, Trump also warned the Kurdish forces not to “provoke Turkey.”

The US withdrawal has begun with shipments of military equipment, US defense officials said. But in coming weeks, the contingent of about 2,000 troops is expected to depart even as the White House says it will keep pressure on Daesh.

Once the troops are gone, the US will have ended three years of organizing, arming, advising and providing air cover for Syrian, Kurdish and Arab fighters in an open-ended campaign devised by the Obama administration to deal the militants, also known as Daesh, a lasting defeat.

“Starting the long overdue pullout from Syria while hitting the little remaining Daesh territorial caliphate hard, and from many directions,” Trump tweeted. “Will attack again from existing nearby base if it reforms. Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds.”

Trump’s decision to leave Syria, which he initially said would be rapid but later slowed down, shocked US allies and angered the Kurds in Syria. It also prompted the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and drew criticism in Congress. Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, called the decision a “betrayal of our Kurdish partners.”

Arab News