Turkish-Kurdish tensions rise in Syria

There has always been tension between Kurds in northern Syria and Turkey in the complex Syrian civil war (albeit with a number of other countries directly involved including Russia and the USA).

Reuters reports that there could be yet another open conflict in the mix, with the ead of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia saying that Turkish military deployments near Kurdish-held areas amounted to a “declaration of war”.

Kurdish YPG militia expects conflict with Turkey in northern Syria

The head of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia said on Wednesday that Turkish military deployments near Kurdish-held areas of northwestern Syria amounted to a “declaration of war” which could trigger clashes within days.

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus retorted that his country was not declaring war but that its forces would respond to any hostile move by the YPG, which he described as a small-scale army formed by the United States.

The mounting tensions between two U.S. allies in northwestern Syria risk opening yet another front in the multi-sided conflict, in which outside powers are playing ever greater roles.

Asked by Reuters whether he expected a conflict with Turkey in northern Syria, where the two sides have exchanged artillery fire in recent days, YPG Commander Sipan Hemo accused Turkey of preparing for a major military campaign in the Aleppo and Afrin area.

“These (Turkish) preparations have reached level of a declaration of war and could lead to the outbreak of actual clashes in the coming days,” he said in emailed comments. “We will not stand idly by against this potential aggression.”

Turkey’s policy in northern Syria has been focused on containing the growing sway of Kurdish groups that have established autonomous regions since Syria’s war began in 2011.

Ankara says the YPG represents a security threat, seeing it as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been fighting an insurgency against the Turkish state for decades.

The Kurds were left without their own state when the United Kingdom broke a promise and prevented Kurdish autonomy after the Ottoman Empire was broken up and borders imposed by the UK and France, leaving the Kurds as large minorities in both Syria and Iraq as well as in southern Turkey. See  Treaty of Sèvres and Treaty of Lausanne.

The USA has been supporting and arming the Kurds in the current conflict, but Turkey has been unhappy with this.

BBC: Syria war: Turkey will never accept US alliance with Kurds – Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has indicated after talks in Washington that he will never accept a US alliance with Kurdish forces fighting in Syria.

“There is no place for terrorist organisations in the future of our region,” he said at a joint news conference with President Donald Trump.

He was referring to the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, following a US decision earlier this month to arm the group.

“It is absolutely unacceptable to take the YPG-PYD into consideration as partners in the region, and it’s going against a global agreement we reached,” Mr Erdogan said on Tuesday.

Peace in Syria looks a difficult prospect, as does peace in the Middle East.

An escalation of the Kurdish-Turkish tensions won’t help, especially if it results in yet another sub-war.

Trump raises concerns over Duterte

Donald Trump has caused a stir over a phone call he made to President Duterte of the Philippines.

NY Times: Trump’s ‘Very Friendly’ Talk With Duterte Stuns Aides and Critics Alike

When President Trump called President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines on Saturday, White House officials saw it as part of a routine diplomatic outreach to Southeast Asian leaders. Mr. Trump, characteristically, had his own ideas.

During their “very friendly conversation,” the administration said in a late-night statement, Mr. Trump invited Mr. Duterte, an authoritarian leader accused of ordering extrajudicial killings of drug suspects in the Philippines, to visit him at the White House.

Now, the administration is bracing for an avalanche of criticism from human rights groups. Two senior officials said they expected the State Department and the National Security Council, both of which were caught off guard by the invitation, to raise objections internally.

“By essentially endorsing Duterte’s murderous war on drugs, Trump is now morally complicit in future killings,” said John Sifton, the Asia advocacy director of Human Rights Watch. “Although the traits of his personality likely make it impossible, Trump should be ashamed of himself.”

Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Twitter, “We are watching in real time as the American human rights bully pulpit disintegrates into ash.”

Administration officials said the call to Mr. Duterte was one of several to Southeast Asian leaders that the White House arranged after picking up signs that the leaders felt neglected because of Mr. Trump’s intense focus on China, Japan and tensions over North Korea. On Sunday, Mr. Trump spoke to the prime ministers of Singapore and Thailand; both got White House invitations.

Mr. Duterte’s toxic reputation had already given pause to some in the White House. The Philippines is set to host a summit meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in November, and officials said there had been a brief debate about whether Mr. Trump should attend.

It is not even clear, given the accusations of human rights abuses against him, that Mr. Duterte would be granted a visa to the United States were he not a head of state, according to human rights advocates.

Still, Mr. Trump’s affinity for Mr. Duterte, and other strongmen as well, is firmly established.

This is just one more area of international concern.

Fox News: Trump on North Korea: ‘Nobody’s safe’

President Trump, in an interview with Fox News’ Eric Bolling set to air Monday on the premiere of “The Fox News Specialists,” said “nobody’s safe” amid mounting tensions with North Korea.

As Trump weighs his options for trying to blunt Pyongyang’s nuclear advancements, Bolling asked how safe U.S. troops along the demilitarized zone and South Korea allies are at this time.

“Nobody’s safe. I mean, who’s safe? The guy’s got nuclear weapons,” Trump responded. “I’d like to say they’re very safe. These are great brave solders, these are great brave troops and they know the situation. We have 28,000 troops on the line and they’re right there. And so nobody’s safe. We’re probably not safe over here.”

Trump added, “If he gets the long-range missiles, we’re not safe either.”

That’s not very reassuring.

Fox News: Trump’s Civil War comment draws fire

President Trump is taking heat for questioning why the Civil War had to be fought and suggesting President Andrew Jackson could have mediated the dispute without bloodshed.

The president made the comments in an interview with The Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito.

He dived into Civil War history after citing comparisons between his and Jackson’s campaign for the presidency, describing that race as “nasty” and calling Jackson a “swashbuckler.”

Appearing to cast Jackson as a dealmaker like himself, he propounded a thought exercise:

“I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little bit later you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. He was … a very tough person, but he had a big heart,” Trump said. “And he was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War, he said, ‘There’s no reason for this.'”

He added, “People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War … if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?”

During his presidency, Jackson confronted South Carolina secession threats and in doing so helped preserve the union, temporarily. But Jackson died in 1845, 16 years before the start of the Civil War – which was driven largely by the clash over slavery and other issues.

 

Israel air strike in Syria

It is being reported that Israel has become more directly involved in the war in Syria, with a claimed air strike on a Hezbollah military target near Damascus airport.

BBC: ‘Israeli strike’ hits military site near Damascus airport

An Israeli missile strike has caused a large explosion and fire at a military site near Damascus international airport, Syrian state media report.

A fuel tank and warehouses were damaged, the Sana news agency said.

But Syrian rebel sources said an arms depot run by Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, which is fighting in Syria as an ally of the government, was hit.

Israel said the explosion was “consistent” with its policy to prevent Iran smuggling weapons to Hezbollah.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, reported that the powerful blast was heard across the capital at dawn on Thursday and that it was believed to have happened near the main road that leads to the airport.

Sana said several missiles had been fired at a military site south-west of the airport, causing explosions that resulted in some material losses.

Pro-government Al-Mayadeen TV cited sources as saying that missiles had been fired by Israeli jets flying inside the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

But it stopped short of confirming it was responsible.

Israel regards Hezbollah, and its key backer Iran, as its biggest threat.

Hezbollah has supported the Syrian government in the civil war.

Israel is alleged to have previously launched strikes in Syria in 2013.

  • On 30 January 2013, about ten jets bombed a convoy believed to be carrying Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles to Lebanon. The attack, attributed by some media reports to Israeli airforce, did not result in any counterattacks from Syria, although Syria has said it reserves the right to retaliate. Western intelligence sources reported that Iranian general Hassan Shateri had been killed in the airstrike. Iran acknowledged his death at the hands of the Israelis without further details. Israel refused to comment on its involvement in the incident.
  • News organizations reported that Israel allegedly attacked Syria on the night between 2 and 3 May 2013. US officials said that the Israeli war planes shot into Syria from Lebanese air space, and that the warplanes did not enter Syrian air space. No counter-attacks by Syria were reported at any front, and the Syrian ambassador to the UN said that he was not aware of any attacks on Syria by Israel. Israel as well declined any comment.
  • Another alleged attack was reported to be a set of massive explosions in Damascus on the night of 4–5 May 2013. Syrian state media described this as an “Israeli rocket attack”, with the targets including a military research center of the Syrian government in Jamraya. The Daily Telegraph reported anonymous Israeli sources as saying that this was an Israeli attack on Iranian-made guided missiles allegedly intended to be shipped to Hezbollah. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitoring group based in Britain, said at least 42 Syrian soldiers were killed in the strikes.
  • Another violent event, possibly linking Israel, occurred in July 2013 in Latakia. Both Syria and Israel denied any report, while Hezbollah claimed that large explosions in Latakia area were caused by rebel mortar fire. Reportedly, the attack targeted Russian-made Yakhont anti-ship missiles near the city of Latakia, and killed several Syrian troops. Russian news agency also reported of Turkish involvement in the incident.
  • On November 2013, a US official stated that Israel conducted an air strike on a Syrian weapons store near Latakia.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreign_involvement_in_the_Syrian_Civil_War

SyriaWarMap

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-22798391

Syrian ceasefire

A ceasefire agreement has been reached between the Syrian Government and rebel groups and is backed by Russia and Turkey – but it doesn’t include jihadist groups.

RNZ: Syria ceasefire agreed, backed by Russia and Turkey

The Syrian government and rebel groups have agreed a nationwide ceasefire that will begin within hours.

The deal was announced by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and confirmed by Turkey. The two nations, which back opposing sides, will act as guarantors.

The High Negotiations Committee (HNC), regarded by the UN as Syria’s main opposition body, confirmed the deal, which excludes jihadist groups.

If the truce holds, peace talks will be held in Kazakhstan within a month.

‘If the truce holds’ may be a big IF. Government and 13 factions have signed the ceasefire.

On the one side, Syrian government forces, their factional allies and the Russian military.

On the other, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a loose alliance of several moderate rebel factions, plus other groups under the HNC, the umbrella group representing Syria’s political and armed opposition factions.

FSA spokesman Osama Abu Zaid said there were 13 armed opposition factions in all who had signed up.

That’s a lot of factions involved in the civil war.

But there’s others who are not a part of this agreement.

Jihadists. So-called Islamic State (IS) “and the groups affiliated to them” are not part of the agreement, Syria’s army confirmed.

It also said Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly the Nusra Front) was excluded. However, some rebel officials told Reuters it was part of the deal, giving a hint of the complications that lie ahead.

This is because JFS is intrinsically linked in Idlib province to groups that have signed up to the truce.

The FSA also said that the deal did not include the Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG).

The YPG, along with other Kurdish militias, controls a large area of northern Syria up the Turkish border. It is regarded by Turkey as a terrorist organisation and an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

So some of the battles may cease but the war is likely to continue against ISIS and Kurds.

But it’s a promising sign that at least some of the internal factions are willing to stop fighting.

Why Syria only seems to get worse

One of the worst and most difficult problems in the world at present is Syria – and it doesn’t look like getting any better.

The New York Times : Syria’s Paradox: Why the War Only Ever Seems to Get Worse

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There is a basic fact about Syria’s civil war that never seems to change: It frustrates any attempt at resolution.

Despite many offensives, peace conferences and foreign interventions, including this week’s Turkish incursion into a border town, the only needle that ever seems to move is the one measuring the suffering of Syrians — which only worsens.

Academic research on civil wars, taken together, reveals why. The average such conflict now lasts about a decade, twice as long as Syria’s so far. But there are a handful of factors that can make them longer, more violent and harder to stop. Virtually all are present in Syria.

Many stem from foreign interventions that were intended to end the war but have instead entrenched it in a stalemate in which violence is self-reinforcing and the normal avenues for peace are all closed.

The fact that the underlying battle is multiparty rather than two-sided also works against resolution.

So do Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Russia, France, the US, the UK and every other cou7ntry that has become involved in the Syrian civil war just need to wait another five years for the destruction to come to an end?

Most civil wars end when one side loses. Either it is defeated militarily, or it exhausts its weapons or loses popular support and has to give up. About a quarter of civil wars end in a peace deal, often because both sides are exhausted.

That might have happened in Syria: The core combatants — the government and the insurgents who began fighting it in 2011 — are quite weak and, on their own, cannot sustain the fight for long.

But they are not on their own. Each side is backed by foreign powers — including the United States, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and now Turkey — whose interventions have suspended the usual laws of nature. Forces that would normally slow the conflict’s inertia are absent, allowing it to continue far longer than it otherwise would.

Government and rebel forces are supplied from abroad, which means their arms never run out.

So if the approach of the countries feeding the destruction don’t change their approaches much then nothing much is likely to bring this civil war to an end.

This reminds me a bit of another war exactly 100 years ago:

No one can lose, and no one can win

Foreign sponsors do not just remove mechanisms for peace. They introduce self-reinforcing mechanisms for an ever-intensifying stalemate.

Whenever one side loses ground, its foreign backers increase their involvement, sending supplies or air support to prevent their favored player’s defeat. Then that side begins winning, which tends to prompt the other’s foreign backers to up their ante as well. Each escalation is a bit stronger than what came before, accelerating the killing without ever changing the war’s fundamental balance.

That doesn’t provide much hope for those civilians left trying to live in Syria, and those who hope to some day return.

“We tend to think this is as bad as it can get,” Professor Walter said. “Well, no, it could get a lot worse.”

Professor Fearon, listing the ways that Syria’s war cannot end, said that in the best case, one side would slowly grind out a far-off victory that would merely downgrade the war into “a somewhat lower-level insurgency, terrorist attacks and so on.”

The worst case is significantly worse.

According to a 2015 paper by Professor Walter and Kenneth M. Pollack, a Middle East expert, “Outright military victory in a civil war often comes at the price of horrific (even genocidal) levels of violence against the defeated, including their civilian populations.”

This could bring entirely new conflicts to the Middle East, they found: “Victorious groups in a civil war sometimes also try to employ their newfound strength against neighboring states, resulting in interstate wars.”

This is not a drift that anyone wants, but it is the direction that Syria’s many domestic and foreign participants are pulling the country, whose darkest days may still be ahead.

At least here in New Zealand we only have to bicker about immigrants who don’t cause us many if any problems.