Archive for the ‘Turkey – Syria war’ category

Turkey lira crashes to new lows as market alarm grows

August 10, 2018


© AFP | The lira’s drastic fall has European banks worried

10 August 2018 – 13H20 France 24

Source Link: Turkey lira crashes to new lows as market alarm grows

{Trump drops another economic bomb. – LS}

ISTANBUL (AFP) –

Turkey’s embattled lira on Friday hit new record lows against the US dollar and euro, losing over six percent in value as strains with the United States showed no sign of abating and fears grew over the exposure of European banks.

The lira was trading at 5.90 to the dollar, a loss on the day of 6.5 percent. Earlier, it had crashed some 12 percent through the 6.00 level for the first time in history, trading at one point at more than 6.20 lira per dollar.

The lira has now lost over a third of its value against both the dollar and the euro this year, with the currency battered by both concerns over domestic economic policy and the political situation.

Versus the euro on Friday the lira lost 7.0 percent to trade at 6.8.

Turkey remains at loggerheads with the United States in one of the worst spats between the two NATO allies in years over the detention for the last two years of American pastor Andrew Brunson and a host of other issues.

Talks this week in Washington failed to resolve the impasse which has led both sides to slap sanctions on senior officials amid fears of graver measures to come.

– Doubts over central bank –

Meanwhile, markets are deeply concerned over the direction of economic policy under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with inflation nearly 16 percent but the central bank reluctant to raise rates in response.

UBS chief economist for EMEA emerging markets Gyorgy Kovacs said a giant rate hike of 350-400 basis points would be “consistent with real rate levels that in the past helped to stabilise the currency.”

He warned a “rate hike alone might not stem the worries about the US and Turkey tensions and a potential further escalation.”

And it remains unclear if the bank would be willing to sharply lift rates with analysts saying the nominally independent institution is under the influence of Erdogan, who wants low rates to keep growth humming.

Erdogan after winning June 24 elections with revamped powers tightened his control over the central bank and appointed his son-in-law Berat Albayrak to head a newly-empowered finance ministry.

“President Erdogan’s strengthened powers under the new presidential system have made it increasingly uncertain whether policymakers will be able to act to stabilise the economy,” said William Jackson, chief emerging markets economist at Capital Economics in London.

He said the lira’s fall was being exacerbated by fears the central bank “isn’t being permitted to raise interest rates”.

– ‘Accelerating speed’ –

Concerns were intensified Friday by a report in the Financial Times that the supervisory wing of the European Central Bank (ECB) had over the last weeks began to look more closely at euro zone lenders’ exposure to Turkey.

The report said that the situation is not yet seen as “critical” but Spain’s BBVA, Italy’s UniCredit and France’s BNP Paribas are regarded as particularly exposed.

“Investors have been looking at the unfolding currency crisis in Turkey as a local difficulty, however the accelerating speed of the declines appears to be raising concerns about European banks exposure to the Turkish banking system,” said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets UK.

Albayrak, who formerly served as energy minister, is on Friday expected to announce what he has described as a “new economic model” for Turkey but markets remain sceptical.

The president did nothing to reassure markets with comments overnight that the pressure on the lira was due to what he described as a “variety of campaigns” and appearing to play down the magnitude of the crisis.

“If they have dollars, we have our people, we have our right and we have Allah!” he said.

The plunge in the lira has featured remarkably little on Turkish television channels and newspapers — most of which after recent ownership changes are loyal to the government — with most media focusing instead on recent flooding by the Black Sea.

© 2018 AFP

Turkey urges Islamic world to unite against Israel, calls summit

May 16, 2018

Press TV May 15, 2018

Source Link: Turkey urges Islamic world to unite against Israel, calls summit

{You can bet Trump will weigh in on this one. – LS}

Turkey has urged Islamic countries to review their ties with Israel after dozens of Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire on the Gaza border.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told his ruling party in parliament that Ankara would call an extraordinary summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

“Islamic countries should without fail review their relations with Israel,” Premier Yildirim said, adding, “The Islamic world should move as one, with one voice, against this massacre.”

Yildirim said that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who currently holds the rotating chairmanship of the body, called the OIC summit on Friday.

Yildirim said that after the summit at 3:00 pm a giant rally would be held at the vast Yenikapi meeting area in Istanbul under the slogan of “Stop the Oppression” to express solidarity with the Palestinians.

“This has nothing to do with party politics. This is to show solidarity, brotherhood and togetherness,” he said.

“The Islamic world should move as one, with one voice, against this massacre,” Yildirim added.

Ankara has reacted with fury to the killing Monday of 60 Palestinians in clashes and protests, on the same day as the United States formally moved its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem al-Quds from Tel Aviv in defiance of international outrage.

Ankara said it was recalling its ambassadors to the United States and Israel for consultations in the wake of the events.

On Tuesday, Israel expelled the Turkish consul in Jerusalem al-Quds.

The Foreign Ministry’s spokesman said the consul had been summoned and was told to return to Turkey “for consultations for a period of time.”

Yildirim earlier accused the US of sharing responsibility with Israel for a “vile massacre” along the Gaza border, during which dozens of Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire on Monday.

The United States took its place without complaint alongside the Israeli regime in “this massacre of civilians and became a party to this crime against humanity,” Yildirim told reporters in Ankara.

“This is … vile massacre and we condemn it strongly,” he added.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during a visit to London, said that the United States had lost its role as mediator in the Middle East by moving its embassy to the occupied territories.

Turkish President accuses Israel of ‘genocide’ 

President Erdogan later in a speech broadcast on Turkish state television accused Israel of carrying out a “genocide” as nearly 60 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in one day of protests.

The Turkish president accused Israel of being a “terrorist” entity and announced he would pull ambassadors out of Israel and the US.

“What Israel has done is genocide,” the Turkish president said, adding, “I condemn this humanitarian drama, the genocide, from whichever side it comes, Israel or America.”

He added: “We will continue to stand with Palestinian people with determination.”

Thousands held anti-Israeli rally in Istanbul

Thousands gathered in Istanbul’s Istiklal Street to condemn the US’ decision to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem al-Quds and the Israeli bloodshed in the Gaza Strip.

The rally organized by several NGOs under the name “Raise Your Voice Against Occupation.”

Demonstrators carried banners that read “Al Quds belongs to Palestinians.”

Speaking at the event, organizers and speakers said that the relocation has reignited an awakening for Muslims and encouraged them to put up a fight against the Israeli occupation.

Turkish protesters wave Palestinian flags as they shout slogans in front of the Israel consulate in Istanbul on May 15, 2018 during a demonstration against US President’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem al-Quds and Israel’s attack against protesters in Gaza. (Photo by AFP)

They also called for protests to continue throughout Muslims’ holy month of Ramadan outside the Israeli consulate in Istanbul.

Israeli gunfire killed 59 Palestinians and wounded over 2,700 in the Monday clashes, the highest toll in a single day since a series of protests demanding the right to return to ancestral homes began on March 30.

The embassy inauguration also coincides with the climax of a six-week demonstration on the 70th anniversary of Nakba Day (Day of Catastrophe), May 15, when Israel was created.

The occupied territories have witnessed new tensions ever since US President Donald Trump on December 6, 2017 announced US recognition of Jerusalem al-Quds as Israel’s “capital” and said Washington would move US embassy to the city.

The dramatic decision triggered demonstrations in the occupied Palestinian territories as well as Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, Iraq, Morocco and other Muslim countries.

Turkey Threatens Exxon Mobil & The US 6th Fleet Off Cyprus

March 8, 2018

by Tyler Durden Thu, 03/08/2018 – 06:10 Zero Hedge

Source Link: Turkey Threatens Exxon Mobil & The US 6th Fleet Off Cyprus

{With friends like this, who needs enemies? – LS}

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım threatened not only hydrocarbon survey ships of oil giant Exxon Mobile but also the US 6th Fleet is participating in a naval exercise in the area 7-18 March 2018.

As KeepTalkingGreece.com reports, Yildirim said:

“The Republic of Cyprus would not be allowed to get away with selling the energy resources surrounding the island,” Yildirim said on Wednesday. With reference to the turkey-occupied North part of Cyprus, he added “the natural riches surrounding the island of Cyprus is the common wealth of all the people who live on the island.”

And he threatened that:

“This and other provocative activities that create faits accomplis will be responded to in an appropriate fashion.”

It was a clear message even to the US Fleet as some media have linked its presence off  Cyprus to the Exxon survey, saying the Fleet was going to protect the Exxon Mobile survey vessels.

Last month, Turkish war ships threatened to sink drilling ship commissioned by Italy’s ENI and ultimately managed to block the process as the Italian diplomacy did not dare to put the lives of their fellowmen at risk.

A day earlier, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, reacting to U.S. Sixth Fleet heading to East Mediterranean, said , “while European states’ boats abandoning refugees to death, we try to rescue every innocent’s life. You can only make it there with your Sixth Fleet, aircraft carrier.”

Yildirim underlined that any underground riches surrounding the island should only be extracted with the permission of both the island’s administrations.

“Any work in which one of these interlocutors is not part of the deal will be evaluated by us as a threat to the sovereign rights of North Cyprus,” he said.

Turkey has been illegally occupying 40% of Cyprus since 1974. It is only Turkey that recognizes “North Cyprus” as ‘state’, while the rest of the world considers as an “illegal” …something with no sovereign rights at all.

Meanwhile, in Cyprus…

One wonders just how far Turkey is willing to push Washington…

 

Turkey, Russia and Iran leaders to discuss Syria in Istanbul: Turkish source

February 8, 2018

Reuters staff February 8, 2018

Source: Turkey, Russia and Iran leaders to discuss Syria in Istanbul: Turkish source

{Hopefully, they will be discussing a way out of the money pit called Syria.  Must be costing a lot of money, especially with Turkey providing sanctuary for all those refugees from Syria.  Meanwhile, Turkey appears to have formed new alliances at NATO’s expense. – LS}

ANKARA (Reuters) – The leaders of Turkey, Russia and Iran agreed on Wednesday to meet in Istanbul to discuss the conflict in Syria, a Turkish presidential source said.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan discussed the meeting in two phone calls on Wednesday with the Russian and Iranian presidents, the source said. The date of the summit would be set in coming weeks.

The three countries have worked together in recent months to try to reduce violence in Syria, even though they have backed rival sides in the nearly seven-year civil war and remain deeply involved in the conflict.

Iran-backed militias and Russian air power have supported a Syrian army offensive in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib since November, and Turkish forces last month launched an offensive in northern Syria’s Kurdish region of Afrin.

On Monday, Iran urged Turkey to halt the Afrin operation, saying it breached Syrian sovereignty and would increase tension. It was not immediately clear whether Erdogan and Rouhani discussed Afrin in their telephone call on Thursday.

Erdogan and Putin also agreed to speed up the establishment of military observation posts in Syria’s Idlib region under an accord reached by Ankara, Tehran and Moscow last year to reduce fighting between President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and rebels.

After the phone call, the Kremlin said in a statement that Putin and Erdogan agreed to strengthen coordination between the two countries’ military and security services in Syria in the fight against terrorism.

 

Turkey says seeks no clash with U.S., Russia, but will pursue Syria goals

January 23, 2018

January 23, 2018 By Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ellen Francis One America News Network

Source Turkey says seeks no clash with U.S., Russia, but will pursue Syria goals

{I have to agree with one of the comments on this article, “Erdogan, who lacked the cajones to take on ISIS when they were just over the border, now sends his forces to attack the Kurds – who fought and turned back ISIS .” Besides, when will Turkey learn it cannot have it both ways. – LS}

ANKARA/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Turkey seeks to avoid any clash with U.S., Russian or Syrian forces but will take any steps needed for its security, a Turkish minister said on Tuesday, the fourth day of its air and ground offensive against Kurdish forces in northwest Syria.

The United States and Russia both have military forces in Syria and have urged Turkey to show restraint in its campaign, named Operation Olive Branch, to crush the U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG in the Afrin region on Turkey’s southern border.

The operation has opened a new front in Syria’s multi-sided civil war and could threaten U.S. plans to stabilize and rebuild a large area of northeast Syria – beyond President Bashar al-Assad’s control – where the United States helped a force dominated by the YPG to drive out Islamic State fighters.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reiterated Ankara’s demand that Washington stop supporting the YPG, and said President Tayyip Erdogan would discuss the issue by telephone on Wednesday with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Ankara has said the operation will be swift, but Erdogan’s spokesman signaled an open-ended cross-border campaign, saying it would end only when some 3.5 million Syrian refugees now living in Turkey could safely return home.

Turkey’s military, the second largest in NATO, conducted air strikes and artillery barrages against targets in Afrin, and its soldiers and allied Syrian rebels tried to push into the Kurdish-held district from west, north and eastern flanks.

With heavy cloud hindering air support in the last 24 hours, advances have been limited and Kurdish fighters have retaken some territory. Turkish troops and the Syrian fighters have been trying to take the summit of Bursaya Hill, overlooking the eastern approach to Afrin town.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said 23 civilians had been killed in Turkish shelling and air strikes, and thousands were fleeing the fighting.

However, Syrian government forces were preventing people from crossing government-held checkpoints to reach the Kurdish-held districts of nearby Aleppo city, it said.

Erdogan told French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday Turkey was taking all measures to prevent civilian casualties in the Afrin operation, sources at the presidential palace said. The two leaders agreed to stay in close contact on the issue.

YPG THREAT

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Turkey’s offensive was distracting from efforts to defeat Islamic State.

Ankara says the jihadist group is largely finished in Syria and that the greater threat comes from the YPG, which it sees as an extension of a Kurdish group that has waged a decades-long separatist insurgency inside Turkish own borders.

Erdogan has said Turkey aims to destroy YPG control not just in the Afrin enclave but also in the mainly Arab town of Manbij to the east.

“Terrorists in Manbij are constantly firing provocation shots. If the United States doesn’t stop this, we will stop it,” Cavusoglu was reported as saying on Tuesday.

“Our goal is not to clash with Russians, the Syrian regime or the United States, it is to battle the terrorist organization,” broadcaster Haberturk quoted him as saying.

“I must take whatever step I have to. If not, our future as a country is in jeopardy tomorrow… We will not live with fear and threats,” Cavusoglu said.

He tweeted that a lieutenant had become the second Turkish soldier to be killed in the operation. The Observatory said 43 rebel fighters fighting alongside the Turks had also been killed, as well as 38 on the Kurdish side.

Later on Tuesday Cavusoglu discussed the crisis with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during a conference in Paris.

Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said the military operations would continue until Syrian refugees in Turkey “return home safely and the separatist terror organization has been cleansed from the region”.

The Kurdish-led administration of northeastern Syria appealed for a mass mobilization in defense of Afrin. “We call on all our people to defend Afrin and its pride, and contribute in all the related activities,” it said, without elaborating.

A U.N. report, citing local sources, said about 5,000 people in the Afrin district had been displaced as of Monday but that some of the most vulnerable had been unable to flee. It said the United Nations was ready to provide aid to 50,000 in Afrin.

MANBIJ FEARS

Washington’s central goal in the region is to prevent Turkey from driving Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the U.S.-backed umbrella group that is dominated by the YPG, out of Manbij, U.S. officials say.

Unlike Afrin, where no U.S. forces are stationed, there are some 2,000 U.S. military personnel deployed in the eastern region of Manbij, which extends for 400 km (250 miles) along Turkey’s border.

YPG spokesman Nouri Mahmoud said Turkish shelling on Monday had killed three people in the Syrian border town of Ras al-Ayn, pointing to the risk of widening hostilities along the frontier.

Ras al-Ayn is located in Kurdish-controlled territory some 300 km (190 miles) east of Afrin. It was one of several locations in northeast Syria targeted in cross-border attacks from Turkey on Monday, Mahmoud said.

The United States hopes to use the YPG’s control in northern Syria to give it the diplomatic muscle it needs to revive U.N.-led talks in Geneva on a deal that would end Syria’s civil war.

Ankara has been infuriated by the U.S. support for the YPG, which is one of several issues that have brought ties between Washington and its Muslim NATO ally close to breaking point.

“The future of our relations depends on the step the United States will take next,” Cavusoglu said.

NATO joined the chorus of calls for Turkish restraint.

“From NATO’s perspective, we want to say that the reaction (Turkey’s military operation) should be proportionate and in a limited time and area,” NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller told Turkey’s NTV channel during a visit to Ankara.

Kurdish militia repels Turkish Afrin invasion amid continuing Turkish air blitz

January 21, 2018

Kurdish militia repels Turkish Afrin invasion amid continuing Turkish air blitz, DEBKAfile, January 21, 2018ss>

Russian forces did not interfere when 72 Turkish jets Saturday night pounded 100 Kurdish YPG targets in the north Syrian enclave of Afrin. Early Sunday, Jan. 21, Kurdish and Syrian opposition sources confirmed that Turkish troops trying to enter Afrin clashed with the Kurdish militia on the northern and western edges of the enclave and were pushed back. Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan continued to issue dire threats, saying, “Beginning from the west, step by step, we will annihilate the terror corridor up to the Iraqi border. No one can say a word. Whatever happens we don’t care anymore.

”The Turks have cynically dubbed their assault on the Kurds, “Operation Olive Branch.”  Kurdish leaders are reported to have opened secret negotiations with the Assad regime for opening the door to the Syrian army to enter their enclave on the assumption that Erdogan will not wish to open a new warfront with Damascus. Turkey’s deputy prime minister Bekir Bozdaq said that Ankara would preserve Syria’s territorial integrity after it achieved its objective and Turkish troops would cross back home.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the Turkish army has so far not gone further than exploratory steps in its campaign against the Kurdish YPG in Afrin. A major offensive with large numbers of foot soldiers and tanks has not taken place as yet. Erdogan appears to be pulling his punches to test whether the US will come to the aid of its Kurdish allies. But the question still open is: Will he go through with his threat to capture Kurdish lands spanning northern Syria from the Turkish border to the Syrian border with Iraq? If he does and succeeds in pulling off this ambitious campaign, Turkish troops will override the region declared just a few days ago as being under American military protection and secured by a new US-trained and armed Border Defense Force of 30,000 men. Will the 2,000 US military personnel deployed in the bases there then intervene? Russia has made its position clear by refraining from interfering with the Turkish air offensive although its forces control the skies over Afrin.

Turkey declares de facto war on Syrian Kurds. Russian troops move out of Afrin

January 19, 2018

Turkey declares de facto war on Syrian Kurds. Russian troops move out of Afrin, DEBKAfile, January 19, 2018

ISIS and Syrian rebel groups may well take advantage of a major Turkish-Kurdish clash to recover territory which they lost to Kurdish fighters in northern and eastern Syria. It is hard to see the United States letting that happen.

**********************************

Turkish artillery shelling Friday, Jan. 19 kicked off a major offensive against the Kurdish Afrin enclave of N. Syria, shortly after Turkish C-of-S and intelligence chief left Moscow. No statement followed the visit as to whether Gen. Hulusi Akar had succeeded in his mission of winning Moscow’s cooperation. What happened next was word that the Russian troops positioned in Afrin were to be moved out of the targeted region for safety.

Three days earlier, on Jan. 16, Gen. Akar, who leads one of NATO’s largest armies, visited Brussels and asked the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford, not to counter the planned Turkish invasion for “clearing YPG [Kurdish militia] fighters from Afrin.” But he was cautioned by the American general against going forward with this offensive. In Ankara, President Tayyip Erdogan shot back by informing parliament in Ankara that the Turkish military operation against the Kurds of Afrin was “imminent.” For Erdogan, relations with Washington, which supports the Syrian Kurds, had reached breaking point.

Moscow’s decision to move the Russian contingent at the airport of Afrin out of the way of crossfire, 10 months after its deployment there, was a sign that the Kremlin is taking seriously Erdogan’s threat to crush the Kurds of Afrin. The Turkish ruler has stepped up his anti-Kurd rhetoric even more since US plans were revealed for creating a 30,000-strong border army, predominantly made up of Kurdish militias, in northern Syria. The Kurdish YPG has meanwhile warned the Turks and the Syrian rebel force they support: “If they dare to attack, we are ready to bury them one by one in Afrin.”

But Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli left no room for doubt that the die has been cast, when he said Friday in Ankara: “The assault has begun, the operation has actually started de facto with cross-border shelling. I don’t want it to be misunderstood. All terror networks and elements in northern Syria will be eliminated.”

DEBKAfile’s military sources note that the Turkish army must overcome four obstacles before its tanks and troops can roll across the border into Afrin.

  1. The US forces based in northern Syria. The Trump administration did not immediately respond to the Turkish shelling and threats, but the American outpost in Manbij is no more than 120km from Afrin. Erdogan has included Manbij in his threat to capture Afrin. On Jan. 16, our sources reported that the US had supplied the YPG for the first time with portable anti-air missiles to defend themselves in the event of potential Turkish air strikes. But at this early stage, the Kurds are believed capable of standing up to the Turkish offensive.
  2. Syria has warned Turkey against an incursion of its territory would be deemed an act of aggression and threatened its air defenses would shoot down Turkish jets overflying Syria. Our military sources note that, in any case, Russia controls the airspace over Afrin, a fact that may well deter Ankara from using its air force.
  3. An ingathering of all the Kurdish forces from their northern Syrian bastions in the defense of the YPG, would confront the Turkish army with between 20,000 and 30,000 trained Kurdish fighters well-armed with American weapons, whose motivation for defending their land would be more powerful than any invading force. In past engagements with the Islamic State, the Turkish army’s performance was middling.
  4. ISIS and Syrian rebel groups may well take advantage of a major Turkish-Kurdish clash to recover territory which they lost to Kurdish fighters in northern and eastern Syria. It is hard to see the United States letting that happen.

Astana Peace Talks Fail over Syrian Safe Zones

July 5, 2017

Astana Peace Talks Fail over Syrian Safe Zones, DEBKAfile, July 5, 2017

DEBKAfile’s sources report that the Russians suggested that the discussion be held over for the next session. They then took the Americans by surprise by relocating the sixth session of the Astana conference to Tehran. This too was a measure of the conference’s breakdown as a peace forum. US, Jordanian and Syrian rebel opposition groups will never travel to the Iranian capital to negotiate an end to the Syrian war.

The ceasefire was supposed to be in effect until midnight on Thursday, June 6, but there is now a possibility that the fighting will resume earlier, perhaps even in the coming hours.

*****************************

The fifth round of Russian-initiated Syrian peace talks taking place Tuesday, July 4, in the Kazakh capital of Astana was designed to prepare the ground for the Trump-Putin summit Friday on the sidelines of the Hamburg G20 summit, by laying out proposals for deconfliction zones in Syria.

To support this move, Moscow twisted the Syrian ruler Bashar Assad’s arm to declare a unilateral ceasefire in southern Syria.

However, the ploy was soon aborted. The Astana conference quickly broke down when Iran and Turkey, two of the three sponsors along with Russia, rejected the formula for deconfliction zones on Syria’s borders with Iraq, Jordan and Israel, DEBKAfile’s sources report.

Present at Astana along with the three sponsors were leading Syrian opposition and rebel groups, as well as UN envoy for Syrian affairs Staffan de Minstura, US Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones, and Jordanian Foreign Ministry adviser Nawaf Uasfi Tal.

The Iranina and Turkish delegates had no objections to the two demilitarized zones proposed for the Damascus and Homs areas, but withheld their consent for the zones in eastern and southern Syria, and refused to accept the formula for forces policing the latter deconfliction zones, their identity, powers as truce monitors and the types of arms they were allowed to carry.

Iran and Turkey demanded the deployment of their own troops along with Russians in the two safe zones, which border on Israel, Jordan and Iraq, and wanted them armed for “self-defense.” The representatives of the US and Jordan refused, proposing instead that an international force be established to supervise the zones. Turkey and Iran rejected this out of hand.

DEBKAfile’s sources report that the Russians suggested that the discussion be held over for the next session. They then took the Americans by surprise by relocating the sixth session of the Astana conference to Tehran. This too was a measure of the conference’s breakdown as a peace forum. US, Jordanian and Syrian rebel opposition groups will never travel to the Iranian capital to negotiate an end to the Syrian war.

By knuckling under to Tehran on this venue, the Russians have shown their hand as supporters of Iran’s military objectives in Syria, which they have hitherto tried to disguise.

The failure of the Astana peace track calls into question the ceasefire declared on Sunday by Damascus on all the warfronts of southeastern Syria, including the battle for Daraa, 1 km from the Jordanian border, and the fighting for the Quneitra region, just 3 km from Israel’s Golan.  That front was the source of the mortar shells that strayed across the border into the Golan last week.

The ceasefire was supposed to be in effect until midnight on Thursday, June 6, but there is now a possibility that the fighting will resume earlier, perhaps even in the coming hours.

Trump authorizes heavy weapons for Kurds fighting Raqqa

May 9, 2017

Trump authorizes heavy weapons for Kurds fighting Raqqa, DEBKAfile, May 9, 2017

US President Donald Trump has approved supplying weapons to Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State in Syria, the Pentagon says. The Kurdish YPG leading the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) would be equipped to help drive ISIS from its stronghold, Raqqa, a spokeswoman said. The US was “keenly aware” of Turkey’s concerns about such a move, she added. The SDF, which comprises Kurdish and Arab militias, is already being supported by elite US forces and air strikes from a US-led coalition. The group is currently battling for control of the city of Tabqa, an ISIS command centre just 50km (30 miles) from Raqqa. The equipment would include ammunition, small arms, machine guns, heavy machine guns, construction equipment such as bulldozers and armored vehicles. The Pentagon ource added that the US would “seek to recover” the equipment afterwards.

 

Russia’s 4 Syrian ceasefire zones – Kremlin spin

May 6, 2017

Russia’s 4 Syrian ceasefire zones – Kremlin spin, DEBKAfile, May 6, 2017

The only real change in Syria’s military situation is a surreptitious one, which may present a fresh, wide-ranging peril: The Lebanese Shiite Hizballah has agreed to place the 8,000 members fighting in Syria for Bashar Assad under direct Iranian command. This is part of a radical reorganization of all the military outfits Iran has deployed in Syria, whereby all the Shiite militias including Hizballah fall henceforth directly under a single centralized Iranian command.

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The widely reported Kremlin plan to set up four safe or “de-escalation” zones, that were supposed to have gone into effect in Syria Friday night, May 5, turns out to be nothing but a propaganda ploy. The spin factor leaps to the eye from the small print of the plan that was released by Gen. Sergey Rudskoy, head of Russian General Staffs Operations Division, Friday night.  He outlined four steps that may never take off.

1. Observation points will be set up to monitor the ceasefire (in the four designated de-escalation zones).

So when the putative safe zones were to have started operating Friday night, there were no observation points to monitor them.

2. The boundaries of the zones will be determined in accordance with the observation points.

This means that the zones don’t exist.

3. By June 4, a working team made up of officers of the three guarantors, Russia, Turkey and Iran, will be created to administer the observation points.

Who can tell what will happen in Syrian in a month’s time.

4. Only after the observation groups of the three sponsor-nations’ armies finish mapping the ceasefire zones can it be determined whether the plan is doable or not.

Still no zones.

The Russian propaganda machine worked overtime this weekend to convince the Western media that the ceasefire zones plan had won the support of the United States and Saudi Arabia.

The truth is that US President Donald Trump did not commit himself one way or another when he talked on the phone with President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, May 2, although most of their conversation was devoted to Syria, rather than the North Korean crisis. There was no agreement between them on any Syrian issue, except for a decision that American and Russian forces in the war-torn country would stay out of each other’s way.

In sum, Moscow’s ceasefire zones plan, though effectively propagandized, has changed nothing in Syria’s bloody predicament.

With so much still up in the air, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson talked by phone Friday to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, after which he gave the following statement: “The secretary looks forward to further meetings with the foreign minister to discuss the respective roles of the United States and Russia in de-escalating the conflict and supporting the talks in Geneva to move the political solution forward.”

Tillerson made no mention of any safe zones which Moscow claims to be setting up with Ankara and Tehran, or of the Russian-sponsored Syrian peace conference in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Rebel groups, supposed to be holding a dialogue with Assad regime representatives, walked out of its fourth round last week. And the Trump administration appears unwilling to throw its support behind the Russian-sponsored peace initiative, preferring to stand solidly behind the UN-sponsored Geneva process.

Turkey and Iran, the other two “sponsors” of the Astana framework, and putative “guarantors” of the safe zones, are strangely silent about the roles assigned them by the Kremlin. And no wonder. As rivals in the Syrian arena, their forces are ranged against each other in both Syria and Iraq. It is hard to see them working shoulder to shoulder alongside Russian officers to monitor safety zones which are still pie in the sky.

The situation at the moment is this: In Iraq, Turkish and Iranian troops – essentially pro-Iranian militias under the command of Revolutionary Guards officers – glare at each other across two warfronts, Tel Afar and Sinjar. In Syria, each of their armies is poised to grab Al-Bab in the Aleppo province.

The only real change in Syria’s military situation is a surreptitious one, which may present a fresh, wide-ranging peril: The Lebanese Shiite Hizballah has agreed to place the 8,000 members fighting in Syria for Bashar Assad under direct Iranian command. This is part of a radical reorganization of all the military outfits Iran has deployed in Syria, whereby all the Shiite militias including Hizballah fall henceforth directly under a single centralized Iranian command.

This fundamental shift in the military balance in Syria was initiated by Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Suleiman, commander of Iranian forces in Syria and Iraq. He convinced supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that there was no other way to safeguard Iran’s military supremacy in the Syrian war arena, guarantee a land bridge to Lebanon, or mobilize tactically for future confrontations with Israel.

The Syrian ruler also submitted to this step. Therefore, Hizballah and the Shiite militias will henceforth operate under the orders of the Iranian military mission which has its seat at Syrian High Command Headquarters in Damascus.

This “reorganization” opens the door for Hizballah officers to assume Iranian army uniforms and act as “ceasefire monitors” if Russia’s fictitious safe zones ever get off the ground.