Saturday, 20 February 2016

News from Syria - 02/19/2016

Whatever It Takes: Turkey 

Seeking Any Excuse to 

Invade Syria

Syrian Kurds refute accusations made by the Turkish leadership regarding the recent terrorist attack in Ankara.

19 February, 2016

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu claimed that the perpetrator of the recent terrorist attack in Ankara which claimed the lives of 28 people was a man named Salih Neccar, a native of the town of Amuda located in the Syrian province of Al Hasakah – an area predominantly populated by Syrian Kurds.

However, following Davutoglu's statements the representatives of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) conducted their own investigation into the suspect’s identity, and the facts they’ve uncovered may not be to the prime minister's liking.

"The investigation revealed that no one bearing the family name of Neccar lives or ever lived in Amuda," Hakem Xalo, PYD representative and co-chairman of the legislative council of Syria's Jazira Canton, told Sputnik. "Furthermore, no one bearing this name has ever joined the People's Protection Units (YPG) in Amuda. We've interviewed the people living there and no one knew a man named Salih Neccar. It is a small town, and the residents know each other."

Xalo said that the Syrian Kurds reject accusations made by the Turkish prime minister and suggested that Salih Neccar, assuming that he actually existed, could’ve been a member of Daesh or Jabhat an-Nusra.

"Neither YPG nor PYD bear any responsibility for the terrorist attack in Ankara nor other similar attacks in Turkey. We defend our people from Daesh and other terrorist groups that threaten our land. By claiming that PYD is responsible for the explosions in Turkey, Ankara merely wants to create an excuse for the invasion of Rojava (a region of Syria located near the border with Turkey and populated predominantly by Kurds), nothing more," Xalo explained.

Several notable experts have also warned that the terrorist attack in Ankara looks like a 'false flag operation' which may be used by Turkish leadership as a pretext for a large scale land invasion of northern Syria.

The bombing was carried out on February 17, at a busy crossroad in central Ankara near the country's parliament building at 16:30 GMT. At least 28 people were killed and over 60 were injured by the explosion.

Russia Demands End To 

Turkey's Efforts To 

Undermine Syrian 


19 February, 2016

Over the past several days, Turkey has been busy putting the world on the course to World War III.

The YPG - which Ankara identifies with the “terrorist” PKK- has contributed to the Russian and Iranian effort to cut off the Azaz corridor, the last remaining supply line to the rebels fighting to oust Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

The Kurdish effort to unite territory the group holds east of the Euphrates with cities it hold west of the river in Syria has infuriated Ankara, which views the YPG advance as a kind of precursor to Kurdish independence in Turkey.

The solution, Turkey says, is a 10 km incursion into Syria, an effort which will establish a “safe zone” for those fleeing the violence that plagues the country’s besieged urban centers. That , of course, is merely an excuse for Ankara to send ground troops into the country, where the Sunni-sponsored effort to overthrow Assad is on its last legs.

The deadly bombing in Ankara that claimed the lives of several dozen people on Thursday is predictably being trotted out as an excuse to put Turkish boots on the ground in Syria. "Months ago in my meeting with him I told him the U.S. was supplying weapons. Three plane loads arrived, half of them ended up in the hands of Daesh (Islamic State), and half of them in the hands of the PYD," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday. "Against whom were these weapons used? They were used against civilians there and caused their deaths," he added.

Obviously, that's completely absurd. Turkey has been funneling guns and money to the Syrian opposition for years. For Ankara to accuse anyone of "supplying weapons" to the Sunni insurgents who are endangering civilians is the epitome of hypocrisy. Turkey is only angry at the US and Russia in this case because Washington and Moscow both support Kurdish elements that Ankara views as threatening to AKP and to Turkey's territorial integrity.

At this juncture, the only way to preserve the rebellion and protect the anti-Assad cause is to insert ground troops, a move that both Ankara and Riyadh are seriously considering. The presence of Turkish and/or Saudi boots would mark a meaningful escalation and would put Sunni forces directly into battle against Iran's powerful Shiite proxy armies, setting the stage for a disastrous sectarian battle that would forever alter the Mid-East balance of power.

On Friday, in an effort to avert an all-out global conflict, Moscow called for a UN Security Council meeting to discuss Turkey's plans to send troops into Syria. "Turkey's announced plans to put boots on the ground in northern Syria undercut efforts to launch a political settlement in the Syrian Arab Republic," Maria Zakharova said, earlier today.

The announced intentions of Ankara (as well as Riyadh and Doha) are not consistent with the will of Damascus, which has only invited Russia and Iran to the fight against "the terrorists." Everyone else - including the US, Britain, and France - are effectively trespassing.

In May of 2014, Russia and China blocked a Security Council resolution to refer the Syria conflict to the Hague. Now, we'll get to see whether the West will protect its allies in Ankara and Riyadh, or whether someone in the international community will finally step up and say "enough is enough" when it comes to fomenting discord in Syria.

Turkey says US is arming 

Kurdish ‘terrorists’

US refuses to designate the YPG as a terrorist group

19 February, 2016

Istanbul: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said US-supplied weapons had been used against civilians by a Syrian Kurdish militia group that Ankara blames for a deadly suicide bombing, and said he would talk to US President Barack Obama about it later on Friday.

US support for the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Washington considers a useful ally in the fight against Daesh, has enraged Turkey and risks driving a wedge between the Nato allies. Turkey sees the group as a terrorist organisation linked to Kurdish militants waging an insurgency on its own soil.

Erdogan and the Turkish government have said the PYD’s armed wing, the YPG, was responsible for a suicide car bomb attack in the administrative heart of the capital, Ankara, on Wednesday, which killed 28 people, most of them soldiers.

Erdogan said he was saddened by the West’s refusal to call the PYD and YPG a terrorist group, and would explain to Obama by phone how weapons provided by the US had aided them.

I will tell him, look at how and where those weapons you provided were fired,” he told reporters in Istanbul.

Months ago in my meeting with him [Obama], I told him the US was supplying weapons. Three plane loads arrived, half of them ended up in the hands of Daesh, and half of them in the hands of the PYD,” he said.

Against whom were these weapons used? They were used against civilians there and caused their deaths.” He appeared to be referring to a US air drop of 28 bundles of military supplies in late 2014 meant for Iraqi Kurdish fighters near the Syrian city of Kobani. Pentagon officials said at the time one had fallen into the hands of Daesh. The Pentagon later said it had targeted the missing bundle in an air strike and destroyed it.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu earlier accused the US of making conflicting statements about the Syrian Kurdish militia.

He said US Secretary of State John Kerry had told him the Kurdish insurgents could not be trusted, in what Cavusoglu said was a departure from Washington’s official position.

The United States has said it does not consider the YPG a terrorist group. A spokesman for the State Department said on Thursday Washington was not in a position to confirm or deny Turkey’s charge that the YPG was behind the Ankara bombing.

The spokesman also called on Turkey to stop its recent shelling of the YPG. The YPG’s political arm has denied the group was behind the Ankara attack and said Turkey was using it to justify an escalation in fighting in northern Syria.

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova © Valeriy Melnikov

While terrorists rage in Syria and beyond, with many countries trying to unite their efforts in the fight against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), Ankara's blame game looks more like an untimely joke, Moscow says.

"Mr. Davutoglu [Turkish Prime Minister], are you serious or is it just the way you joke? If it's a joke, then I think at a moment like this everyone, and especially Turkey, should be busy not with irony or sarcasm, but rather with concrete actions to stand against terrorism. I think that's what Turkish people are expecting from you," Russia's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said at a Moscow briefing on Thursday.

"Statements by Turkish officials alleging that Russia secretly supports IS are absolutely unacceptable," she added.

PKK splinter group claims 

responsibility for Ankara 

bombing, says it’s revenge 

for Cizre

Cars of emergency services arrive after an explosion in Ankara, Turkey February 17, 2016 © Umit Bektas
19 February, 2016

The Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK), a Kurdish militant group, has claimed responsibility for the Ankara bombing that killed 28 people this week, according to its website. It said the attack was in retaliation for Ankara’s military operation in Turkey's southeast.

The TAK, which is a splinter group of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), vowed to continue its attacks.

The militant group claimed in the statement published on Friday that the Ankara blast was carried out to avenge the “defenseless and wounded civilians brutally massacred in basements in Cizre.”

Everyone should know that those who ordered the massacre of civilians were responsible for the Ankara incident.”

It identified the perpetrator of the Ankara bombing as a 26-year-old Turkish national born in the eastern city of Van.

The militant group operates in Turkey and northern Iraq and is regarded as a terrorist organization by Ankara and the US. It has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks since 2004. The latest one was the December mortar attack at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen airport that killed one man and damaged five aircraft.

The TAK has said that it severed links with the PKK. The latter, in turn, has reportedly denied having any control over the TAK.

The group is seeking the creation of an independent Kurdish state that encompasses parts of southeast Turkey.

Meanwhile, the Turkish government had accused forces linked with the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia of the terror attack in Ankara. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu vowed to continue the military efforts against Kurdish groups in Syria.

In turn, Syrian Kurds denied responsibility and blamed Islamic State militants (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) for the attack.

In recent months Turkey has been stepping up a military crackdown in its southeastern regions, populated predominantly by Kurds. Erdogan has vowed to continue the military campaign until the area is cleansed of PKK militants.

Earlier in February, Turkish Interior Minister Efkan Ala said that a military operation against the Kurdish militants in the country’s southeastern district of Cizre had been completed. The district became the venue of bloody fighting after a ceasefire between the Turkish government and PKK disintegrated in July 2015. According to reports, dozens of injured people were trapped in basements without food, water or medical supplies while medical access to the area was denied.

Meanwhile, on Friday, a member of the Turkish parliament from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) accused the military of atrocities claiming they had "burned alive" more than 150 people trapped in basements.

"In the Cizre district of Sirnak, around 150 people have been burned alive in different buildings by Turkish military forces. Some corpses were found without heads. Some were burned completely, so that autopsy is not possible," Feleknas Uca told Sputnik, adding that “most” of those killed were Kurds.

NATO Warns Turkey It Won’t 

Support Ankara in Conflict 

With Russia

As tensions escalate between Turkey and Russia, NATO has warned Ankara that it will not take part in a war provoked by the Turkish government.

19 February, 2016

Last November, Turkey shot down a Russian jet flying through Syrian airspace. While many feared that the incident would plunge both countries into war, conflict was avoided, though relations between Moscow and Ankara have remained chilly.

As Turkey pushes to deploy ground forces across its border to remove the legitimate government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Turkish government is, again, threatening the world with war.

"The armed forces of the two states are both active in fierce fighting on the Turkish-Syrian border, in some cases just a few kilometers from each other," one NATO official told Der Spiegel.

Ankara’s aggression seems partially based on the assumption that, should conflict erupt, Turkey will be supported by its NATO allies. According to Article 5 of the NATO treaty, the collective defense clause would be invoked if any member state is attacked.

But European leaders have made it abundantly clear that they have no interest in participating in a war of Turkey’s making.

"NATO cannot allow itself to be pulled into a military escalation with Russia as a result of the recent tensions between Russia and Turkey," Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn told Der Spiegel.

Of Article 5, Asselborn stressed that "the guarantee is only valid when a member state is clearly attacked."

Germany appears to agree

The Guardian,represeenting western media, has a parallel version of reality.

UN Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura, says it up to Americans and Russians to agree concrete plan for cessation of hostilities

A deadline to secure a cessation of hostilities in Syria has passed, further delaying the resumption of UN-brokered peace talks between the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, and the rebels fighting to overthrow him.

US and Russian military officials were holding talks in Geneva in advance of a wider meeting of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) to try to thrash out a deal on a cessation. The arrangement falls short of a formal ceasefire but is seen as a key step towards de-escalating the five-year conflict.

Last Friday the 20-strong ISSG announced in Munich that it would be trying to secure a cessation in a week, but the intervening days have seen no let-up in violence, with Russia continuing airstrikes against moderate opposition forces, according to diplomats monitoring the crisis. Russia says it is targeting “terrorists”, echoing the Syrian government’s blanket description of all Assad’s opponents.

The hope is that if a joint US-Russian position can be agreed, the UN will negotiate the details of implementation with the parties on the ground. The UN’s Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura, who was on his way back from meetings Damascus, took part in the talks by videolink.

We need real talks about peace, not just talks about talks,” de Mistura told the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagblad. “Now the Americans and Russians must sit down and agree on a concrete plan on the cessation of hostilities between today and mid-next week. Now the ball is in their court.”

The only progress since the Munich meeting has been the start of deliveries of humanitarian aid to seven besieged areas across the country. “Humanitarian access has improved this week, but it needs to become a routine, and we also need to see detainees released,” one western official told the Guardian. Air drops to other areas, including Deir el-Zor, which is under siege by Isis, are to begin within days.

But rebels from the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army complained that there had been no response to urgent appeals for help to be sent to 12,000 people in Daraya, west of Damascus, the target of a fierce military campaign by government forces and Hezbollah. Last year it was hit by 6,580 barrel bombs, the FSA said.

If there are grounds for optimism, it is in the apparently narrowing gap between Washington and Moscow. The high level of interest is shown by the fact that the US team in Geneva is led by Rob Malley, Barack Obama’s chief adviser on Syria, and the Russian side by Alexander Lavrentiev, who does the same job for Vladimir Putin.

Western sources said it was vital to ensure that any cessation of violence and aid deliveries were clearly linked to a “political transition” – meaning talks on Syria’s future and Assad’s role. Russia has been reluctant to address that.

Since the start of the conflict in 2011 western governments have hoped that Moscow would pressure Assad into changing policy, though that has never happened in any significant way. But Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, said in an interview that Assad needs to respond to the Munich agreement – hinting strongly at disagreements with Damascus.

Turkey sees targeting of civilian hubs as a deliberate attempt to create mass outflow of people and vacuum for pro-Assad forces to fill

Russia has invested very seriously in this crisis, politically, diplomatically and now also militarily,” Churkin told the Kommersant daily. “Therefore we would like al-Assad also to respond to this,” he said, adding that the Syrian leader’s stance “is not in accord with the diplomatic efforts that Russia is making”.

Churkin was responding to an interview by Assad – just before the Munich deal – in which he pledged to retake the whole of the country and appeared to rule out negotiations. “If they proceed on the basis that no ceasefire is necessary and they need to fight to a victorious end, then this conflict will last a very long time and that is terrifying to imagine,” Churkin said. Syria is “already on the brink of falling apart,” he added.

Even if a cessation of hostilities deal is agreed, it is likely to be fragile and viewed with suspicion, especially by rebels who fear they may be walking into a trap. De Mistura implicitly acknowledged this, admitting that it would not be possible “realistically” to reconvene the Geneva talks, as originally scheduled, on 25 February, but they “intend to do so soon”. Meetings began on 29 January but were suspended after just three days without results as Russian airstrikes intensified.

Further evidence of intense diplomatic activity around the crisis came in a phonecall between Putin and King Salman of Saudi Arabia, who backs the anti-Assad rebels as firmly as Moscow has supported the Syrian leader. The Saudis also work closely with Turkey, which is increasingly at odds with Russia over Kurdish involvement in the fighting.

Fighting continued in Aleppo and Hasakah province, with reports of Russian airstrikes and Turkey bombing Syrian Kurdish forces in the northern border area. The Red Cross said it was “deeply alarmed by the situation in the Aleppo region, where fighting is intensifying, hospitals and health workers have been targeted, people have no water or electricity and more than 70,000 have now fled their homes”.

Obama Backs Turkey Against 

Syrian Government, PKK in 

Call to Erdogan

US President Barack Obama warned the Syrian Kurdish People Protection Units (YPG) not to seize additional territory in Syria, and pledged support for Turkey against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) guerrillas in a phone call to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday, the White House said.

20 February, 2016

WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — Obama also emphasized the unwavering commitment of the United States to Turkey’s national security as a NATO Ally, and agreed to deepen cooperation in the fight against all forms of terrorism, including the PKK and Daesh, the read out said.

"President Obama stressed that YPG forces should not seek to exploit circumstances in this area to seize additional territory, and urged Turkey to show reciprocal restraint by ceasing artillery strikes in the area," the White House read out, released on Friday, said.
Obama also expressed his concern to Erdogan about recent Syrian army advances in northwest Syria, and urgently called for a halt to actions that heighten tensions with Turkey and with allegedly moderate opposition forces in northern Syria, the read out continued.

"The president condemned and offered condolences for the February 17 terrorist attack in Ankara, which killed and wounded both military personnel and civilians, and the February 18 terrorist attack against a Turkish military convoy in Diyarbakir Province."

US, France say Russia’s draft resolution on Syrian sovereignty has ‘no future’

© Mike Segar
© Mike Segar / Reuters

A Russian draft resolution condemning any plans for foreign military intervention and warning against violations of Syrian sovereignty has been rejected by the US and French ambassadors, as having ‘no future’ ahead of a UN Security Council meeting.

Yet despite opposition from some of the UNSC members, Russia’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Vladimir Safronkov told RT that there had also been “positive” reactions to the Russian proposal.

I told our western partners, that everything that is included in the draft was previously voiced by them, declared by them and repeated many, many times,” Safronkov told RT, adding that Russia will press forward with negotiations over the draft in the hope that the resolution “will be adopted soon.”

The draft, the diplomat stressed, reflects the key principles of the UN charter, compliance to which “becomes fundamental in nature because all of us are working intensely on the parameters of a political settlement in Syria.”

The Russian diplomat stressed that unless the document is adopted,“achieving a lasting peace settlement would be very difficult.”

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