Category - Levant

Obama authorises air strikes in Syria

FT, By Geoff Dyer, August 3

Washington – The Obama administration has decided to provide air cover to the Syrian rebels it has trained if they come under attack by the Assad regime, potentially deepening the US role in the four-year old Syrian conflict.

The Syrian fighters are being trained by the US to take on Islamist militants from Isis but there is also a chance that they could also come under attack from Assad regime forces.

The administration has been reluctant to discuss any military action against the Assad regime for fear that it could lead to greater US involvement in the civil war, but felt it was necessary to provide greater assurances to the fledgling rebel force it has been building up.

The decision, made by President Barack Obama, comes after some US-trained rebels were attacked on Friday by elements of the Nusra Front, a jihadi group in Syria that is allied with al-Qaeda. The US was forced to conduct air strikes to defend the troops.

Ha’aretz: Obama Green Lights U.S. Airstrikes in Syria to Protect Rebels Against Both ISIS and Assad
Russia says any support for Assad’s rivals hampers Damascus’ fight against ISIS.
IBT: Obama Authorizes Airstrikes To Defend US-Backed Syrian Rebels From Assad Forces: Report

UK, US turn blind eye to Islamic State oil sales

Middle East Eye, By Nafeez Ahmed, July 31

Key allies in the US and UK led war on Islamic State (IS) are covertly financing the terrorist movement according to senior political sources in the region. US and British oil companies are heavily invested in the murky geopolitical triangle sustaining IS’ black market oil sales.

The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq and Turkish military intelligence have supported secret IS oil smuggling operations and supplied arms to the terror group, according to Kurdish, Iraqi and Turkish officials.

One British oil company in particular, Genel Energy, is contracted by the KRG to supply oil for a major Kurdish firm accused of facilitating IS oil sales to Turkey. The Kurdish firm has close ties to the Iraqi Kurdish government.

Genel operates in the KRG with the backing of the British government, and is also linked to a British parliamentary group with longstanding connections to both the British and KRG oil industries.

Turkey expands bombing raids to PKK targets in Iraq

PM’s office says jets bombed Kurdish targets in northern Iraq, hours after planes pounded ISIL positions in Syria.

Al Jazeera, July 25

Turkish fighter jets have bombed military positions of Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in neighbouring Iraq.

The air raids came just hours after Turkish planes pounded Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) positions in Syria on Friday morning, marking a significant shift in Ankara’s position on how to deal with armed groups in Syria and Iraq.

“Strikes were carried out on targets of the Daesh [ISIL] terror group in Syria and the PKK terror group in northern Iraq,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement, adding that shelters and warehouses containing PKK weapons were hit in the northern Iraq operation.

[…]

Turkey also approved the full use of its airbases by the US-led coalition against ISIL, according to the foreign ministry, marking a major change in its policy following a suicide bomb attack in Suruc, bordering Syria.

“The cabinet of ministers has given approval for the stationing in our country’s bases of manned and unmanned aircraft of the US and other coalition countries … taking part in air operations against Islamic State,” the foreign ministry said, adding that Turkey’s own aircraft would also be deployed.


RT: Turkey attacks Kurdish militia & ISIS positions – PM’s office

Prime Minister Davutoglu told reporters that some 590 suspected members of IS and PKK and other militant groups had been arrested in raids across Turkey that began on Friday, according to AFP.

First contingent of U.S.-trained fighters enters Syria

McClatchyDC, By Roy Gutman, July 19

Istanbul – They arrived in Toyota Hilux pickup trucks, the favored vehicle of Islamist fighters in the Middle East and South Asia. But these men, the first graduates in the faltering U.S. train-and-equip program, were traveling into Syria to fight against an extremist insurgency, the Islamic State.

The U.S. military calls them the “New Syrian force” and disclosed that they are to coordinate with rebel forces already on the ground who have a different objective – to fight the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The goal, a spokesman said, is to expand the effectiveness of all moderate forces.

Turkish news media said 54 fighters crossed in Sunday in a convoy of 30 vehicles, commanded by an ethnic Turkman colonel who’d defected from the Syrian army. McClatchy obtained photos from an anti-regime activist in Syria that showed the trucks were Toyota Hiluxes.

[…]

The “New Syrian Force” is the first contingent of a $500 million program Congress approved last year to train and equip 15,000 fighters.

Obama says US intensifying anti-ISIL campaign in Syria

US president says ISIL will be defeated as US-led coalition bombs 19 positions in Syria and Iraq in last 24 hours.

Al Jazeera, July 7

US President Barack Obama has said that the US-led coalition battling fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was “intensifying” its campaign against the armed group’s base in Syria.

Speaking at the Pentagon on Monday, Obama said that recent territory losses by the ISIL group show that the armed group will be defeated, but added that the fight will be long.

The US-led coalition has stepped up its efforts in Iraq and Syria, with some of the heaviest bombing since it began its strikes in September last year. At least 19 US-led coalition air strikes have been carried out in the last 24 hours.

Air raids have been carried out in 11 locations in Iraq: they are the oil town of Beiji, the cities of Fallujah, Haditha, Kirkuk, Makh-mur, Ramadi and Sinjar. Coalition strikes have also targeted eight ISIL positions in Syria: near Hasakah, Raqqa, Kobane and Aleppo.

The Conversation: Why defeating ISIL/ Daesh with military might is starry eyed idealism

‘More than 230,000 killed’ in Syria conflict

AFP, June 9

Beirut – Syria’s brutal conflict has left more than 230,000 people dead including almost 11,500 children since it broke out in 2011, a monitoring group said Tuesday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had documented the deaths of 230,618 people.

The toll includes 69,494 civilians, among them 11,493 children and 7,371 women.

Combatants account for a majority of those killed, with 49,106 regime forces and 36,464 government loyalists among the dead.

Turkey votes amid debate on presidential system

Ruling AK party seeks two-thirds majority in parliament, aiming to replace parliamentary system with a presidential one.

Al Jazeera, By Umut Uras, June 7

Voters in Turkey are casting their ballots in a parliamentary election that could lead to fundamental changes in how the country is governed.

Sunday’s election is being held amid strong economic promises and debates on the Kurdish issue.

The polls are to open at 8am local time (0500GMT) and close at 5pm (1400GMT), with non-official results expected by the end of the day.

The political atmosphere is tense, with bombings targeting the country’s Kurdish-oriented left-wing party and harsh rhetoric emanating from party leaders and the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Amid the ruins of Syria, is Bashar al-Assad now finally facing the end?

As Isis surges ahead and the Syrian regime teeters on the brink of collapse, our Middle East correspondent, winner of the 2015 Orwell prize for journalism, reports on the deadly struggle for dominance in the region.

The Guardian, By Martin Chulov, May 23

One evening at the end of March, a Syrian rebel leader returned from a meeting across the border in Turkey and called an urgent gathering of his commanders. The five men turned up at their boss’s house in Idlib province expecting to receive the same pleas for patience that they had always heard and more grim news about cash and weapons being hard to find. This time, though, they were in for a shock.

“He arrived looking eager,” said one of the commanders. “That caught our attention straight away. But when he started to speak, we were all stunned.”

The leader, who asked that his unit not be identified, said he told his men that the grinding war of attrition they had fought against the Syrian government since early 2012 was about to turn in their favour.

“And the reason for that was that I could now get nearly all the weapons I wanted,” he told the Observer. “For the first time they were not holding anything from us – except anti-aircraft missiles. The Turks and their friends wanted this over with.”

Istanbul Goes Into Security Lockdown to Stop May Day Rallies

NBC News, May 1

Istanbul — Istanbul went into a security lockdown on Friday as thousands of police manned barricades and closed streets to stop May Day rallies at Taksim Square, a symbolic point for protests.

Citing security concerns, authorities shut down much of the city’s public transport and dispatched riot police to block Taksim off from demonstrators. A traditional rallying ground for leftists, the central square saw weeks of unrest in 2013.

Hundreds of flag-waving protesters gathered in the nearby Besiktas neighborhood, where they were held back by lines of police. Thousands of protesters also gathered to march in the capital Ankara.

Critics say President Tayyip Erdogan and the government have become more authoritarian ahead of June elections.

“This meeting is peaceful and is not armed,” opposition politician Mahmut Tanal, holding a pocket-sized book of the Turkish constitution, told Reuters in Istanbul. “People want to express their problems but the government doesn’t want those problems to be heard ahead of elections.”

Armenian Church to canonize 1.5 million genocide victims

AFP, By Irakli Metreveli, April 23

Yerevan – The Armenian Church prepared Thursday to canonise up to 1.5 million Armenians massacred by Ottoman forces as tensions over Turkey’s refusal to recognize the killings as genocide reached boiling point.

The ceremony, which is believed to become the biggest canonisation service in history, comes ahead of commemorations expected to see millions of people including heads of state Friday mark 100 years since the start of the killings. The Armenian Apostolic Church announced the canonisation service for the “martyrs of the Armenian Genocide,” calling for a “prayerful participation in this historic event.”

The service will be held in Armenia’s main church, Echmiadzin, an austere fourth-century edifice believed to be the Christian world’s oldest cathedral. The ceremony will run from 1300 GMT and end at 1515 GMT to symbolize the year when the massacres started during World War I.

“Today’s canonisation unites all Armenians living around the globe,” Huri Avetikian, an ethnic Armenian librarian from Lebanon who arrived in her ancestral homeland to attend the service, told AFP.

The Independent: System Of A Down perform in Armenia for the first time to mark genocide’s 100th anniversary
NPR: System Of A Down, Armenia’s Favorite Sons, On Facing History

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