Friday, August 26, 2016

Russia and Turkey move closer on Syria policies

Ankara source tells MEE that Moscow has agreed top-level talks on Syria policy, despite remaining far apart on future of President Assad



By David Hearst

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Turkey and Russia remain far apart over the future of Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, but the two regional powers have agreed not to return to the hostilities which erupted after a Russian jet was shot down by Turkey earlier this year, and to conduct further top-level bilateral negotiations.
“The issue of Bashar is not solved,” a senior Turkish government source told Middle East Eye. He said there was still disagreement about whether Assad could play a role in a transitional government.
The source played down reports in the Turkish media that Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and his deputy Numan Kurtulmus had given a “green light” to Assad staying on.
Both sides agreed, from their different positions, that US policy in Syria was not working and have set up a joint working group in an attempt to hammer out a consensus.
This will be headed on the Turkish side by the head of Turkey's National Intelligence Organisation, Hakan Fidan.
As a result of the meeting between President Tayyip Erdogan’s and Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg on 9 August, Russia’s “red lines” in northern Syria have disappeared.
The state news agency, Anadolu, meanwhile reported that Erdogan and Putin spoke via telephone on Friday and "agreed to accelerate efforts to ensure help reaches people in Aleppo".
The source countered an MEE report from Tehran that Iran was playing the role of go-between between Ankara and Damascus. However, the Turkish source acknowledged Iran’s quiescence on the incursion of Turkish tanks into northern Syria, and attributed it to the rise of armed attacks on infrastructure by Kurdish separatists in Iran.
“There is agreement between Iran and Turkey about the unity of Syria. Neither side is interested in dividing Syria," the source said. "For Iran, a unified Syria is more important, because for them Syria is an important platform for projecting their influence in the region. The notion of a unified Syria is a good starting point for us."
There are two groups of Kurdish fighters in Iran -the Peshmerga of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), an exiled opposition group plotting a comeback in the Islamic Republic, and the PJAK, the Iranian offshoot of the PKK in Turkey.
In May this year, MEE talked to Peshmerga KDPI fighters in an old Iraqi army fortress in the town of Koya, which is serving as headquarters for the group.
MEE reported that the KDPI was spearheading the recruitment drive in Iran. 
“Lightly armed with Kalashnikovs, machine guns and sniper rifles, their aim is to avoid confrontation with the [Iranian] army during their trek over the mountains, and then to melt away into the villages and towns of Rojhelat, the Kurdish name for their traditional areas in northwest Iran."
The MEE report quoted Qadir Wrya, a member of the KDPI’s politburo: ”The KDPI has become more active in Iran over the past two years”.
Wyra said the party was building an underground network of cadres in Rojhelat.
The Turkish source said the Iranians were getting their own blowback from Syria, in Kurdish fighters returning from the northern front and achieving hero status among the Sunni Kurdish population of north-western Iran.
He said that the Kurdish push for a state along the Turkish border of northern Syria was re-igniting an even older battle for a Kurdish enclave in Iran.
The MEE article in May continued: “Between four and seven million Kurds live in Iran, most of them in the provinces of Kordestan, West Azerbaijan, Ilam and Khermanshah.
"The Shia theocracy in Tehran has never shed its mistrust of minorities, and Kurdish is not taught in school, while the predominantly Sunni Kurds find that the government discriminates against them on religious grounds too. Kurdish political parties remain outlawed and activists are routinely thrown in jail and tortured.
"As long as this absolute, multi-faceted denial policy is pursued by Tehran, the sense of alienation and discontent will be on the rise," said Himan Hosseini, a contributing analyst at the Washington Kurdish Institute.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

ما وراء الخبر- هل يمكن لتركيا إقامة المنطقة الآمنة؟

ANALYSIS: Iran coordinating between Turkey and Assad during incursion

Sources tell MEE closer ties between Ankara and Tehran helped pave the way for the Turkish incursion into Syria

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TEHRAN - As Turkey increases its tank force inside northern Syria, the Iranian government is preserving a conspicuous but significant silence. News of the incursion is being widely covered in Iranian media but there has been no reaction from officials.
Iran’s relations with Turkey have been warming up dramatically in recent weeks and analysts suggest there is some embarrassment in Tehran over how to handle the incursion publicly. 
The Iranian media have reported the Syrian government’s condemnation of the incursion as aggression but have not yet quoted any statements from their own government.
Iranian relations with Turkey are at a delicate stage. Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Hossein Jaberi Ansari, was in Ankara on Tuesday a few hours before Turkey sent the first tanks into Syria and it is not known whether he was warned in advance. 
His visit followed a surprise stop-over in Tehran by Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, last week on his way to India. This, in turn, followed a meeting by Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on 12 August.
The unprecedented flurry of visits since the abortive Turkish coup is not just confined to bilateral issues. Ansari’s visit was officially billed as centering on the future of Syria and Middle East Eye has learned that Iran has become the main conduit for contacts between Erdogan and Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad. A source close to the Iranian leadership told MEE: “The Turks and Syrians are co-ordinating through the Iranians”.
Turkey has insisted on Assad’s resignation for more than four years of the country’s civil war but it started to change its stance on Syria before the abortive coup on 15 July. Since the coup, these moves have accelerated with several statements from the Turkish Prime Minister, Binali Yildirim, saying that Assad could remain during a transition period. 
The future of Syria’s Kurds is clearly part of the emerging new equation. The attacks by the Syrian army and air force on the Syrian Kurdish people’s defence militias (YPG) in the town of Hasakah in recent days look like a signal from Assad to Erdogan that he understands Erdogan’s concerns about the growing strength of the Syrian Kurds along a long section of Turkey’s southern border. Until recently, the Syrian army ignored the YPG and even saw them as potential allies in the war against the Islamic State (IS) group.
Assad’s ultimate aim is to persuade Erdogan to stop allowing arms supplies to cross from Turkey to non-IS opposition groups fighting him in Idlib and Aleppo.   
Turkey won’t immediately halt its arm supplies to the rebels but gradually there’ll be a quid pro quo for Assad’s strikes on the YPG in Hasakah,” the leadership source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told MEE. 
He also revealed details of Iran’s quick reaction to the Turkish coup while it was still evolving. It has been widely reported that Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif tweeted solidarity with Erdogan and condemnation of the coup before it collapsed, a move which impressed the Turkish leader and differed markedly from the US and European reaction, which Turkey has said has been muted and only came after the outcome of the coup attempt was clear. 
According to the source, Zarif’s midnight tweets were prompted by the office of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. 
“Zarif and Rouhani were cautious and initially hesitated how to react to news of the coup attempt. They had to be pressed by the supreme leader’s office more than once before the tweet went out,” he said.
Iran’s quick condemnation of the coup attempt was based on one of Iran’s basic foreign policy principles, according to Foad Izadi, a professor in Tehran University’s Faculty of World Studies. 
“Military coups are unacceptable,” he told MEE. “A second principle is that you don’t send forces across international borders without the agreement of a country’s government.”
However, Iran has stayed silent on Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria, with only its allies in Damascus issuing a statement denouncing the incursion into their sovereign territory.

Syrian regime and Islamic State 'carried out chemical attacks'

The cases investigated found that chlorine gas was used in barrel bombs dropped

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A United Nations probe into chemical attacks in Syria accuses the Assad government of using chlorine gas in two incidents and Islamic State militants of using mustard gas.
UN investigation has established that President Bashar al-Assad's forces carried out at least two chemical attacks in Syria and that Islamic State [IS] militants used mustard gas as a weapon.
The panel was able to identify the perpetrators of three chemical attacks carried out in 2014 and 2015, but was unable to draw conclusions in the other six cases that it has been investigating over the past year.
The report from the Joint Investigative Mechanism [JIM] found that the Syrian regime dropped chemical weapons on two villages in northwestern Idlib province – Talmenes on 21 April 2014 and Sarmin on 16 March 2015.
In both instances, Syrian air force helicopters dropped "a device" on houses that was followed by the "release of a toxic substance," which in the case of Sarmin matched "the characteristics of chlorine."
The panel found that the Islamic State "was the only entity with the ability, capability, motive and the means to use sulphur mustard" in an attack on the town of Marea in northern Aleppo province on 21 August 2015.
The Assad regime has repeatedly denied that it has used chemical weapons in Syria, but the report said that in all three cases, it had "sufficient information to reach a conclusion on the actors involved."
The JIM was set up by the Security Council a year ago to investigate the use of chemical weapons and for the first time to determine who is responsible for the attacks.
Most of the nine cases investigated pointed to the alleged use of chlorine gas in barrel bombs dropped from helicopters.
Britain, France and the United States had long maintained that only the regime has helicopters, but Russia, Damascus's ally, insisted that there was no concrete proof that Assad's forces carried out the attacks.
It is essential that the members of the Security Council come together to ensure consequences for those who have used chemical weapons in Syria
- US Ambassador Samantha Power
US calls for 'strong action'
US Ambassador Samantha Power called for "strong and swift action" by the Security Council to follow up on the findings of the report.
"It is essential that the members of the Security Council come together to ensure consequences for those who have used chemical weapons in Syria," she said in a statement.
In Washington, National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said "it is now impossible to deny that the Syrian regime has repeatedly used industrial chlorine as a weapon against its own people."

"The United States will work with our international partners to seek accountability through appropriate diplomatic mechanisms, including through the United Nations Security Council," he added.
The report "states clearly that the Syrian regime and Daesh have perpetrated chemical attacks in Syria," French Deputy Ambassador Alexis Lamek told reporters, using the Arabic acronym for the group.
"When it comes to proliferation, the use of chemical weapons, of such weapons of mass destruction, we cannot afford to be weak. The council will have to act."
The Security Council is due to discuss the report on Tuesday and could decide to impose sanctions on Syria or ask the International Criminal Court to take up the matter as a war crime.
But many diplomats say Russia would be unlikely to back such a move, despite the JIM's strong findings of chemical weapons use in the three cases.
The panel recommended further investigation of three other cases of suspected chemical weapons on the village of Zafr Zita, in Hama province, on April 28, 2014, and on two towns in Idlib – Qmenas on 16 March 2015 and Binnish on 24 March 2015.
The 24-member team said there was insufficient information to reach a conclusion in three other cases and recommended that there be no further investigation of those suspected attacks.
Syria agreed to get rid of its chemical stockpile and to refrain from making any use of toxic substances in warfare when it joined the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013, under pressure from Russia.
The findings prompted immediate calls for the perpetrators to face justice.
"The UN Security Council should now ensure that those responsible for these attacks are brought to justice in a court of law," said Louis Charbonneau, Human Rights Watch's UN director.

Emad Hajjaj's Cartoon: Report Shows that Assad and ISIS Have Used Chemical Weapons

تحقيق دولي يتهم الاسد وداعش باستخدام الكيماوي