Syria demands Turkey to immediately withdraw from its territory

Damascus, Jan.14 (Prensa Latina) Syria has demanded Turkey a full and immediate withdrawal from its territory, official press reported on Tuesday.

In a trilateral meeting held in Moscow, the Syrian side asked Ankara to respect sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, reported the Syrian TV news channel Ikhbariya TV.

The head of Syria's National Security Bureau, Liutenant General Ali Mamlouk and the Turkish Intelligence chief Hakan Fidan and high Russian officials attended the encounter.

According to General Mamlouk, Turkey must comply with its commitments respecting the Sochi agreement concerning Idlib, particularly with regard to evacuating terrorists and heavy weapons and opening the road linking Aleppo, Latakia and Hama.

Syrian army is determined to continue fighting against terrorism and liberate all Idlib, expressed the Syrian high official.

It is about the first meeting at this level between Syria and Turkey since the severance of relations in 2011.

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Trump admin still does NOT recognize Armenian genocide despite Senate resolution – State Dept

The White House has not changed its position on the Armenian Genocide despite the Senate resolution on the Ottoman Empire killings, the State Department said. President Donald Trump will keep using terms like “mass atrocities.”

"The position of the administration has not changed. Our views are reflected in the President’s definitive statement on this issue from last April," State Department spokesperson, Morgan Ortagus, said on Tuesday.

While Trump did not explicitly refer to the 1915-1923 events as a “genocide” in his April statement, he used the Armenian phrase “Meds Yeghem,” meaning “big massacres,” and publicly honored the memory of some 1.5 million Armenians “who suffered in one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century.”

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Ortagus’ statement poured cold water on the possibility that Trump would follow along with the unanimous resolution, passed by the House in November and by the Senate on December 12, which said that “it is the policy of the United States to commemorate the Armenian Genocide through official recognition and remembrance.”

The Senate’s vote came just a day after its Foreign Relations Committee approved sanctions against Turkey over its purchase of Russian-made S-400 missile defense system and its military actions in northeast Syria, and the bill’s sponsors acknowledged it is intended to “change behavior” of the Turkish government.

Trump has previously stated he opposed the resolution because it would strain already-distressed relations with Ankara, which has called the vote “a political show” with “no validity whatsoever.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hinted they could retaliate with their own resolution recognizing the Native American genocide, while threatening to shut down the strategic US/NATO bases of Incirlik and Kurecik should more sanctions from Washington follow.

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Cuba and Turkey strengthen cooperation in tourism

Representatives of the Ministries of Tourism of Cuba and Turkey held a program of exchanges and activities in Istanbul with directors of tourism business organizations and Turkish Airlines.

As part of the meeting, development manager Jose Reinaldo Daniel Alonso and commercial director Michel Bernal Quicutis, from the Cuban Ministry of Tourism, explained the business opportunities offered by the Caribbean island for bilateral cooperation in the sector, as well as the benefits of Cuba tourist destination.

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One of their counterparts in the Turkish ministry, Gokay Azakli, made a presentation on tourism development in that nation and the possibilities of cooperation with Cuba.

Cuban ambassador, Luis A. Amoros, and Turkish Airlines vice-president, Mustafa Dogan, were present at the exchange.

The meetings showed the potential to expand mutual cooperation in tourism, where there was consensus between both sides.

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‘Revenge & political pressure’: US House recognizes Armenian genocide and threatens Turkey with new sanctions

Ankara has accused Washington of “exploiting history” for political means after the US House overwhelmingly passed a set of bills acknowledging the 1915 Armenian genocide and calling for fresh sanctions against its NATO ally.

The House voted 405-11 on Tuesday for the measure commemorating the genocide, committed over a century ago by the Turkish Ottoman government, provoking a fierce rebuke from Turkey. This “shameful decision” is “null and void,” tweeted Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who called the move an apparent “revenge” for Turkey’s independent foreign policy.

@MevlutCavusoglu Ruined big game w/#OperationPeaceSpring. Those whose projects were frustrated turn to antiquated resolutions.Circles believing that they will take revenge this way are mistaken.This shameful decision of those exploiting history in politics is null&void for our Government&people.


Doubling down on their pressure, US lawmakers also voted 403-11 in favor of a measure calling on President Trump to slap sanctions on Turkey’s financial sector and halt arms sales. Ankara said such threats were not befitting of an ally, and would violate a deal struck with the US administration earlier this month.

“We urge the US Congress not to exploit bilateral issues for domestic political consumption and to act in line with the spirit of our Alliance and partnership,” Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said.

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Ties between the two NATO allies have suffered in recent weeks over their conflicting missions in Syria, where Washington maintains an illegal occupation of oil fields, and spent years embedded with Kurdish militias Ankara accuses of terrorism. A Turkish cross-border operation launched earlier this month to push Kurdish fighters away from the Syrian-Turkish borderline sparked intense protest from US lawmakers, who accused President Donald Trump of ‘betraying’ US allies.

The sanctions threat was “a disappointment to say the least,” Turkish lawmaker Ravza Kavakci told RT, adding that “instead of working together with Turkey,” Washington has chosen to support a Kurdish “terrorist group as their boots on the ground.”

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Turkey "Heading In Wrong Direction" Over Syria: US

Brussels, Belgium: Turkey is "heading in the wrong direction" with its incursion into Syria and its deal with Russia to jointly patrol a "safe zone" there, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper warned Thursday.

"Turkey put us all in a very terrible situation" by sweeping into northern Syria this month to fight Kurdish militia allied with the US in the fight against the Islamic State group, Mark Esper told a conference in Brussels ahead of a NATO defence ministers' meeting.

"I think the incursion's unwarranted," Mark Esper said.

The onus was on Turkey's NATO allies to now "work together to strengthen our partnership with them, and get them on the trend back to being the strong reliable ally of the past," he said.

The issue of Turkey's military offensive in Syria is set to dominate the two-day NATO meeting, with diplomats in the organisation saying "frank" discussions with Ankara's representatives have already taken place.

A subsequent arrangement with Russia to clear Kurdish militia that Turkey regards as "terrorists" linked to the outlawed PKK group on its soil has also raised hackles.

Yet, while isolated in NATO, Turkey's strategic position between Europe and the Middle East is seen as too important to jeopardise, so the other alliance members have limited themselves to criticism only.

Mark Esper defended the US decision to pull US forces out of northern Syria, effectively opening the path to the Turkish operation.

"The US decision to withdraw less than 50 soldiers from the zone of attack was made after it was made very clear to us that President (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan made the decision to come across the border," he said.

He added that "I was not about to put less than 50 US soldiers in between a 15,000-man-plus Turkish army preceded by Turkish militia and jeopoardise the lives of those servicemen". Nor was he "about to start a fight with a NATO ally," he said.

Mark Esper acknowledged "there has been some criticism" about the US withdrawal "but nobody's yet offered a better alternative to what the United States did. We are trying to keep a very strategic perspective."

In his speech and question-and-answer session at the event hosted by the German Marshall Fund think tank, Mark Esper highlighted threats he said were posed by Iran, Russia and, especially and above all, China.

"NATO allies should be looking east," to China, he said, stating that Beijing's "heavy hand" was being seen politically, militarily and economically not only in Asia but further abroad, including into Europe with its "belt-and-road" project.

Adoption by NATO allies of China's Huawei company to build 5G telecoms networks would be a threat to intel-sharing within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, he said.

"I'll counsel our allies -- if Huawei becomes your provider of choice, this will affect our ability to share intelligence. We can't trust those networks," he said, adding: "We need to address those threats with eyes wide open."

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U.S. to Try Diplomacy in Turkey as Russian Forces Swoop Into Syria

President Trump on Tuesday said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would travel to Turkey with Vice President Mike Pence, who will meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday where, the White House said, Mr. Pence will reiterate the administration’s commitment to maintain sanctions on Turkey until a resolution is reached.

Congressional leaders from both parties are set to visit the White House on Wednesday afternoon for a meeting with Mr. Trump on Turkey. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) is set to attend, her first meeting with the president since she kicked off the impeachment inquiry.

Administration opposition to the Turkish assault has heightened since Mr. Trump on Oct. 6 ordered a U.S. withdrawal from northeastern Syria in a statement that said the U.S. “will not support” the incursion. After bipartisan political criticism, U.S. officials on Friday threatened sanctions if Turkey didn’t agree to a cease-fire, and imposed some of the measures on Monday.

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As roughly 1,000 U.S. troops work their way out of Syria, American forces Tuesday put on a show of force when members of a Turkish-backed militia came dangerously close to a U.S. position, officials said. American F-15 fighters and Apache attack helicopters flew overhead, and the Turkish-backed force retreated. No shots were fired on either side, officials said.

“It’s a volatile, dangerous situation and we are focused on doing an orderly and deliberate withdrawal…with the number one priority being the protection of our forces,” an official said.

As U.S. troops departed, Russian forces were patrolling the line between Turkish and Syrian armies in and around the city of Manbij, Russia’s Defense Ministry said, demonstrating the country’s growing role as a power broker in the multisided conflict. American forces have left the city, a U.S. military spokesman said, as part of a broader pullout from northeast Syria, where they had joined with Kurdish allies in a coalition fighting Islamic State.

After Mr. Trump withdrew from that partnership, Kurdish fighters in the area sought to shield themselves from a week-old Turkish offensive by striking an alliance with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which is backed by Russia and Iran.

Syrian military convoys have begun moving into positions across the northeast of the country, where the army had only a token presence since the start of the war.

U.S. officials acknowledged the arrival of the Syrian and Russian forces into areas that had been under U.S. control only a week ago. Some of them are now in proximity to Turkish forces, a senior Trump administration official said.

The movement of Russian troops and the departure of American forces from the area have led both sides to use a military deconfliction channel that had been set up by U.S. and Russian commanders, the official said. As of Tuesday, the number of Russian military forces near Manbij was relatively small, “not even hundreds,” the official said.

The U.S. pullback has created an opening for Moscow to expand its clout in a region dominated for decades by American influence but now unsettled by Mr. Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria and his stated desire to disengage from the Middle East.

“The Russians think of themselves as the natural player in the grand design of the geopolitics of the region,” said Malik R. Dahlan, a Saudi lawyer and senior fellow at the Harvard University Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies.

The U.S. departure smooths Russia’s way to ensure it retains control over much of Syria’s natural resources. Russia’s decision to intervene was heavily influenced by the investments Moscow had made there since Soviet times.

Before the Syrian war, Russian companies had invested more than $10 billion to build gas-processing facilities, pipelines and pump oil. That activity stopped as fighting raged, and Syrian oil assets had traded hands in the heaviest years of fighting and at one point were controlled by Kurdish groups and protected by U.S. troops.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has showed a willingness to foster friendships of his own with U.S. allies as well as its adversaries. He has developed strong ties not only with Mr. Assad, but also with Mr. Erdogan, whose country is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Mr. Putin arrived on Tuesday in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, where Russian officials said they planned to sign 10 investment agreements valued at a total of $1.3 billion. Russia signed billions of dollars in deals a day earlier in Saudi Arabia, a longtime U.S. ally that for decades had been a Cold War adversary of Moscow.

Such traditional U.S. allies are grappling with Mr. Trump’s efforts to scale back Washington’s footprint in the region. After the U.S. troop withdrawal in Syria paved the way for the Turkish offensive, Mr. Erdogan said Turkey had seized significant territory, now controlling about 386 square miles of territory in northeastern Syria. He said Turkey would continue to press the campaign to secure an area about 10 times larger between Manbij and the Iraqi border.

“We will continue our struggle until the north of Syria is green again,” Mr. Erdogan said in a televised speech from Baku, Azerbaijan.

Moscow said it would prevent any serious conflicts from erupting between Syrian government forces and Turkish troops. “It’s not that no one is interested in conflict, it’s unacceptable, and therefore we won’t allow it,” said Alexander Lavrentiev, Russia’s special envoy to the Syria crisis, Russian news agency Interfax reported.

Mr. Lavrentiev said Moscow hoped the U.S. would soon pull all of its forces out of the country. “Regardless of Trump’s statements about the withdrawal of U.S. troops in two weeks, it’s hard to say what the final result will be,” Interfax reported him as saying. “But there’s hope.”

Russia has long criticized the presence of the U.S. in Syria, where it allied with Kurdish fighters who were seeking self-rule. Russia entered at Mr. Assad’s request in 2015 to help roll back the gains of antigovernment rebels.

One battle in February 2018 saw the U.S. kill a number of Russian mercenaries who were likely fighting for a pro-Assad militia.

The latest phase of the eight-year Syrian conflict threatens to unleash a wave of refugees. Iraq is bracing for an influx of as many as a quarter of a million people. The semiautonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq already hosts more than 200,000 refugees from Syria. Around 450 people have crossed the border from Syria in the past two days, authorities in northern Iraq said.

Turkey’s incursion has displaced some 130,000 people from their homes in northeast Syria since it began one week ago, the United Nations said. The majority have remained within the country, moving away from the border to seek sanctuary from the fighting.

The U.S. has evacuated a small contingent of American diplomats and began relocating troops from smaller front-line bases to larger ones that are easier to defend or father from the fighting.

Mr. Trump has dismissed criticism for exposing a U.S. ally with his decision to pull troops from Syria. On Monday, he authorized sanctions and raised steel tariffs on Turkey, threatening more-powerful financial penalties unless Ankara halted its offensive.

At least 71 civilians have been killed in Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The group said six of them were executed by Turkish-backed fighters along the M4 highway running along the border. A senior Trump administration official on Tuesday attributed the executions to Turkish-supported Syrian opposition elements being used by Ankara as part of its military assault.

“The Turkish Armed Forces and the Syrian National Army are conducting an extremely meticulous operation without inflicting even slightest harm to civilians,” the Turkish presidency’s communications department said on Tuesday.

Ankara could have employed traditional military units to conduct its operation, the official said, but “instead they decided to use these thugs and bandits and pirates that should be wiped off the face of the earth.” The unit affiliated with those killings is “a well-known jihadist element,” the official added.

Turkey has long relied on such Syrian proxy groups, as it did in 2016 and 2018 when Ankara launched its two previous military offensives in Syria. For years, U.S. officials had rejected demands that American forces work with Turkey’s Syrian proxies because of U.S. concerns about their links to extremist groups and questions about their professionalism.

Pentagon officials said they have “significant concerns” about the militias backed by Turkey. “The Turks have committed to us that they will have control over those forces, but it’s a continued concern, especially after you unleash a force like that,” the official said.

“In terms of counterterrorism, we have never been subjected to a double standard as the one we are now facing in Syria,” Mr. Erdogan said.

For the U.S., “goal No. 1 is to carry out diplomacy, to try to find a cease-fire and get the situation under control,” a senior Trump administration official said, citing the current confusion and risk to U.S. troops, the fight against Islamic State, the detention of nearly 10,000 prisoners, and the management of internally displaced persons camps.

The official denounced Ankara’s suggestions that the U.S. had provided Kurdish-led forces in Syria with heavy weapons, saying it has given the Syrian Democratic Forces mainly small arms and mortars.

Russia’s taking the place of U.S. troops in northeast Syria surprised even some of its security officials as to how quickly Moscow emerged with a commanding position in the conflict.

“It’s an unusual development in our relationship with the U.S. to see Washington voluntarily hand over a territory to a Russian sphere of influence,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, head of a Kremlin defense and foreign-policy advisory board. “But we’ll take it.”

Corrections & Amplifications Russia’s military entered the Syrian conflict in 2015. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Russia entered in 2016. (Oct. 15, 2019)

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Syria’s Kurds strike deal with Assad after being abandoned by US

Kurdish-led forces in Syria have struck a deal with Bashar al-Assad’s government to hand over areas along the border to the Syrian army in a last ditch effort to halt a Turkish attack.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, one of the west’s key allies in the fight against Isis, said the army would deploy along the border with Turkey “to repel this aggression and liberate the areas entered by the Turkish army and its hired mercenaries”.

The deal was struck in response to a wide-scale military operation launched by Turkey against the SDF last week, which has killed more than 60 civilians and sparked fears of ethnic cleansing.

Turkey’s armed forces and allied Syrian rebels have made rapid gains in the past week, taking control of two cities along the border and threatening to advance further. General Mazloum Kobani Abdi, commander of the SDF, described the operation as an “existential threat” to Syria’s Kurds.

The agreement could spell the end of a years-long experiment in autonomy led by Syria’s Kurds, and marks a major shift in alliances for the embattled community.

Turkey has long threatened to attack the SDF, which it considers a terror organisation for its links to a Kurdish separatist group that has fought the Turkish state for decades. Ankara said its military operation was launched to implement a “safe zone” along its border with Syria, free of SDF fighters.

But the SDF – a mostly Kurdish militia with a smaller Arab contingent – has been a key ally of the US in the fight against Isis. The presence of US troops in Syria alongside the group had acted as a deterrence for a Turkish assault. That changed quickly last week when Donald Trump made a shock announcement that the US would not stand in the way of Turkey’s plans to enter Syria. The SDF described the abrupt shift as a “stab in the back”.

The deal will see the Syrian army deployed along a large stretch of the Turkey-Syria border, the SDF said, in an effort to deter any further Turkish incursion.

The agreement brings its own dangers, however. For decades, Kurds in Syria have faced repression and discrimination at the hands of the government. Although the civil war had caused great upheaval for the community, it has also allowed them to win new freedoms, which may now be lost again.

yria’s Kurds took over control of majority Kurdish areas from the government shortly after the outbreak of Syria’s civil war in 2011, but largely refrained from directly fighting it.

In the time since, it extended that area of control beyond Kurdish areas as it recaptured territory held by Isis.

Over the past few years it has built an alternative form of governance in the areas under its control, with the eventual aim of creating an autonomous administration that would outlast the war.

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Trump says US not abandoning Kurds, again threatens ‘partner’ Turkey with economic devastation

The withdrawal of US troops from northeastern Syria does not amount to abandoning the Kurds, Donald Trump said in the wake of criticism at home. He claims Turkey faces devastation if there is ‘unnecessary fighting’ against them.

Trump took to Twitter to justify his decision to pull US troops back from their positions on the Syrian border with Turkey, which potentially exposes Kurdish militias to an attack by the Turkish military. Contrary to what many critics of the move say, the US has “in no way… Abandoned the Kurds, who are special people and wonderful fighters,” the US leader said.

While we only had 50 soldiers remaining in that section of Syria, and they have been removed, any unforced or unnecessary fighting by Turkey will be devastating to their economy and to their very fragile currency,” Trump tweeted, doubling down on Monday’s threat to destroy the Turkish economy, if the country wages war against Syria’s Kurds.

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Kurdish militias played a key role in fighting terrorist group Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) in northeastern Syria, with the US providing air support, weapons, and training. The empowerment of the Kurdish forces alarmed Ankara, which considers them terrorists and an extension of Turkey’s domestic Kurdish guerrillas. Trump announced his surprise decision to pull US troops back from the border just as Turkey was amassing its forces there for what appears to be preparation for a massive anti-Kurdish operation in Syria. Ankara wants to create a so-called “safe zone” along the border, where Syrian refugees currently residing in Turkey would be relocated.

The US President also said the Turks “have also been good to deal with, helping me to save many lives at Idlib Province,” the last remaining hotbed of jihadism in Syria. The area in northern Syria was insulated from a military offensive by Russia-backed Syrian government forces at Ankara’s request. Turkey feared such an operation would cause another massive influx of refugees into its territory.

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