Turkish Forces Begin Besieging Syrian City Of Afrin



Turkish Forces Begin Besieging Syria’s Afrin

Tuesday, 13 March, 2018 – 10:30
Civilians drive through Ain Dara as they flee Afrin on Monday. (AFP)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Turkish forces have begun the siege of the Syrian city of Afrin, nearly two months after launching an offensive in the region against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), announced the military on Tuesday.

The military said in a brief statement that the siege of Afrin, the main town in the enclave, had begun Monday.

The forces also captured “areas of critical importance” in the region as of Monday, it added.

Thousands of people had started to flee Afrin on Monday as the Turkish troops got closer to the town, heading toward nearby Syrian regime-controlled areas.

Afrin city is home to around 350,000 people, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

Turkey launched a military offensive into the border enclave on Jan. 20 to drive out YPG forces that it considers to be “terrorists” and an extension of Kurdish rebels fighting inside Turkey.

Ankara has threatened to push further east to Manbij, where YPG troops are stationed.

The Turkish foreign minister said on Tuesday that Turkey and the United States have reached an agreement on a plan to jointly station Turkish and US forces in Manbij.

Washington has not confirmed any such plan — and a small contingent of US forces is already in Manbij.

Hurriyet newspaper quoted Mevlut Cavusoglu as telling Turkish reporters during a visit to Moscow that the “YPG will leave Manbij, US and Turkish soldiers will joint ensure its security.”

Cavusoglu revealed that he and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would discuss the issue further when they meet in Washington on March 19.

US-Backed Kurdish Militia Now Fighting U.S. Ally, Turkey



Beirut, Lebanon (CNN)A US-backed Kurdish militia is diverting 1,700 fighters from the battle against ISIS and redeploying them to northwest Syria to repel an offensive by US ally Turkey, in a development could hinder the fight against the terror group.

Four branches of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), thus far tasked with defeating ISIS in Syria, have been transferred from east of the Euphrates Rivers to the Kurdish enclave of Afrin, SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali told CNN in a statement.
“We won’t abandon our positions, but since the beginning of the invasion of Afrin we have said that Turkey is trying to give ISIS another chance at life, and directly affects military operations and campaigns against ISIS,” said Bali.
“Now, offensive operations have ended and we have transformed from a force that hunted ISIS to a force that is concentrated in defensive positions,” he added. Bali said the “majority” of the alliance’s forces are moving to Afrin.
The US-led coalition warned that the SDF’s move could slow the campaign to defeat ISIS.
“The departure of some SDF forces from the Middle Euphrates River Valley highlights the potential costs of any distraction from the defeat-Daesh fight,” said coalition Director of Public Affairs Col. Thomas Veale, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
“We remain undeterred in pursuing our mission to defeat Daesh, understanding the effort may take longer with the increased complexity of the situation in northern Syria.”
Turkey, a NATO ally, launched an operation targeting Kurdish groups in Afrin in January to clear the border area of militias it considers to be terrorist organizations. Three Kurdish militias — the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — have borne the brunt of the offensive.
The YPG is considered the backbone of the US-backed SDF, which was instrumental in eliminating ISIS’ territorial foothold in Syria.
Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin has said it is Turkey’s “natural right” to ask the US to halt the SDF’s redeployment to Afrin.
The United Nations on Sunday said it was receiving “disturbing reports” of civilian deaths in the northwestern Syrian enclave, and that it believes “tens of thousands” have been displaced.
Syrian Kurds attend a funeral in Afrin in mid-February for Kurdish fighters.

Turkey has said that the nationwide ceasefire ordered by the UN Security Council last month would not affect its Afrin offensive. The ceasefire has also been ignored by Syrian government forces and rebel groups, mainly in the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, where fighting has caused heavy civilian casualties.
Redeployed SDF forces will be joining pro-Syrian government fighters who entered Afrin last month as part of a deal between the regime and Kurdish forces. Turkey’s deputy prime minister warned at the time of “disastrous consequences” should Syrian government forces intervene in Afrin.

An ‘apocalypse’ in Eastern Ghouta

Meanwhile, Syrian government forces continue to pummel the rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta, where the UN says more than 600 people have been killed in recent weeks.
In a strongly worded statement on Tuesday, UN human-rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein accused the Syrian government of planning an “apocalypse.”
“It is urgent to reverse this catastrophic course, and to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court,” said Al Hussein, according to a UN statement.
“Nearly half of the food” aid bound for besieged Eastern Ghouta, where reports of malnourishment are rampant, had to be returned, according to the United Nations.
A 46-truck aid convoy — some vehicles stripped of desperately needed medical kits — brought some supplies to the area on Monday, but activists said the convoy had to pull out before everything was unloaded.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on all parties in Syria to “immediately allow safe and unimpeded access” for aid convoys to “deliver critical supplies to hundreds of thousands of people desperate need” in the Damascus suburb, according to a statement from spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Tuesday.
Activists say that many of Eastern Ghouta’s residents have taken to makeshift shelters underground, rarely venturing above ground to seek food and water amid nearly incessant airstrikes.
The Syrian government continues to send reinforcements to the rebel enclave, where a ground offensive is underway and regime forces are reported to have captured large tracts of farmland.

Turkey’s President Shows Why I Learned To Spell His Name (Er-Dog’-an)



Turkish leader’s on-stage interaction with sobbing girl draws fire

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan kisses Amine Tiras, a young girl in military uniform as he speaks to his ruling party members, in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, Feb. 24, 2018.


ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has come under criticism for telling a small girl dressed in a military uniform that she would be honored if she were “martyred” for Turkey.

Erdogan spotted the weeping-and-saluting 6-year-old Amine Tiras while delivering a speech at his ruling party’s congress in the city of Kahramanmaras on Saturday, and had her brought on stage.

Turkey Girl Martyr

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan holds Amine Tiras, a young girl in military uniform as he speaks to his ruling party members, in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, Feb. 24, 2018.


After trying to comfort the girl by kissing her on both cheeks, Erdogan told the crowd: “She has the Turkish flag in her pocket. If she becomes a martyr, God willing, this flag will be draped on her.”

Some people were appalled and took to Twitter to criticize the president.

One user said it was the state’s duty to protect children, not to “kill” them. Another said: “you don’t wish death for a child, you never say: ‘God willing.'”

His action comes as nationalist sentiment is running high over a Turkish cross-border military offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters that are affiliated with Kurdish rebels fighting inside Turkey. In recent weeks, children dressed in commando uniforms or reciting nationalist poems have been making appearances in many events that he attends.

Yasar Okutan, a former government minister, accused Erdogan in a television interview of using them to increase votes in presidential and local elections in 2019 and questioned whether the president would say the same for his own granddaughter.

Turkish Journalists Sentenced to Life in Prison



‘They Fear Pens, Not Guns’: Turkish Journalists Sentenced to Life in Prison

Demonstrators on World Press Freedom Day in Turkey, 2013. Image by Amnesty International Turkey.

After spending just over a year behind bars without charge, Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yucel was released from a Turkish jail on February 16. Just hours later, six other journalists in the country were issued a life sentence for “or attempting to overthrow the constitutional order”.

With 155 journalists serving jail time because of their work, these days of highs and lows are beginning to feel routine for Turkey’s embattled independent media community.

BBC described Deniz Yucel’s imprisonment as a long-standing “irritant” in the relations between the two countries. His release came shortly after Turkish PM’s visit to Germany this week.

Deniz Yucel was arrested exactly 367 days ago on suspicion of “inciting the people to racial hatred and enmity” and “spreading the propaganda of a terrorist organization”.

Soon after his release was announced, crowd gathered outside the jail, where Yucel joined his wife who was waiting for him:

But the ordeal is not yet over. Yucel was charged and indicted upon his release, with the prosecution demanding that he be sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Same court that ordered ‘s release has apparently accepted an indictment calling for up to 18 years imprisonment.

Not quite clear what is going on, but a key issue is whether he is being allowed to travel abroad.

In ordering Deniz Yücel’s release, the court also accepted his newly issued indictment. He faces 4 to 18 years in prison. https://twitter.com/cyberrights/status/964462592331796480 

While colleagues and friends celebrated the news of Yucel’s release, another court decision came down, this time affecting the fate of a different group of journalists.

A Turkish court has jailed for life journalists Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, Nazli Ilicak & Fevzi Yazici & one other defendant for seeking to “overthrow the constitutional order” in alleged coup plot http://www.haberturk.com/nazli-ilicak-ve-altan-kardeslerin-yargilandigi-davada-karar-bekleniyor-1840173 

Esas hakkındaki savunmalar tamamlandı

Haberin detayları için tıklayın


Awful news coming in from Silivri jus now. & faced a trial in which no credible evidence was presented beyond their words. This verdict does not pass the test of international human rights law. https://twitter.com/rsf_eeca/status/964478858996146177 

Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, Nazli Ilica, Yakup Şimşek, Fevzi Yazıcı and Şükrü Tuğrul Özsengül were handed a lifetime prison sentence after being convicted of involvement with Turkey’s 2016 coup, despite a lack of direct evidence.

Five of the six defendants are journalists and intellectuals all had strong ties with opposition news outlets in the past. Ahmet Altan is the former editor-in-chief of Taraf newspaper and his brother, Mehmet Altan is an academic and journalist who once wrote for Hurriyet. Nazli Ilıcak has written for Hurriyet, in addition to other newspapers, and briefly served as an MP for the Virtue party.

Yakup Şimşek and Fevzi Yazıcı worked with Zaman newspaper, which was one of Turkey’s largest independent daily newspapers until 2016, when the government seized its operations, alleging that the outlet had ties to Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen.

Anadolu Agency reported that six people were convicted for attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and of having communicated with associates of Gulen, whom Turkey blames for the July 2016 failed coup.

In addition to facing legal threats, all of these journalists have been subject to extralegal harassment. One year ago, President Erdogan called Yucel a terrorist in one of his televised speeches.

Bu konuşmayı tam 1 yıl önce çekmiştim. Deniz sonunda özgür. Darısı Alman vatandaşı olmayan gazeteci arkadaşlarımızın başına.

I filmed this speech one year ago. Deniz is finally free. I wish the same for the rest non-German citizen journalists friends of mine.

Video clip translation:
 They are hiding this German terrorist, this spy at the embassy. They hid him for a month. And German Chancellor asked him from me. She said to release him. I told her we have an independent judiciary. Just like your judiciary is independent so is mine. It is [the judiciary] objective. That is why I am sorry to say, you won’t take them from us. Finally, he was brought to court. He was arrested. Why? Because he is spy terrorist. Who cares he is a German citizen. It doesn’t matter whose citizen you are, if you are spreading terror in Turkey, if they are secretly spies, they will pay the price.

Supporters in Turkey and around the world tweeted their shock at the decision:

Today’s verdict & sentences of life without parole for , & mark an apex of the disintegration of the in . Judge ignored a binding Turkish Constitutional Court decision. The European Court of Human Rights must act.

As Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak are given “aggravated life sentences”, it is worth remembering what that sentence is.

It is life without parole, with up to 23 hours a day in solitary confinement. Forever and ever, amen.

On February 12, both Ahmet and Mehmet Altan were thrown out of the courthouse, for demanding to read the constitutional court decision which ruled for their releasein January. The two brothers demanded that the decision which was overturned within 24 hours by the ruling of the 27th High Court is put on the record.

The next day, on February 13, speaking from high-security prison via video link, Ahmet Altan in his defense said the following:

Those in political power no longer fear generals. But they do fear writers. They fear pens, not guns. Because pens can reach where guns cannot: into the conscience of a society.

When the verdict was handed to Altan brothers today, one observer said cries and screams filled the courtroom.

Meanwhile, there are at least four other German Turkish citizens behind bars in Turkey, while the total number of imprisoned journalists and writers since the coup has now surpassed 150.

White House’s Rob Porter debacle is a sign of incompetence or hubris — or both  



The Fix

The White House’s Rob Porter debacle is a sign of incompetence or hubris — or both

 February 8 at 8:59 AM 
Ex-wife of White House aide alleges emotional and physical abuse

Rob Porter’s ex-wife Jennie Willoughby told The Post in an interview that the White House aide was abusive during their marriage.

“Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor, and I can’t say enough good things about him,” White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly said in an initial statement Tuesday about allegations that the top White House aide had abused an ex-wife.

By Wednesday afternoon, Porter resigned amid allegations that he had abused another ex-wife, who produced photographs of her black eye. And Kelly was suddenly “shocked.”

“I was shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter. There is no place for domestic violence in our society,” Kelly said. But, he added: “I stand by my previous comments of the Rob Porter that I have come to know since becoming chief of staff, and believe every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation.”

Kelly was the man brought in to restore order to a White House in chaos. The Porter controversy has displayed once again how rudderless the West Wing remains.

It would be one thing for the White House to keep its powder dry as Porter faced allegations — to say what Kelly said at the end of his Wednesday statement: That “every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation.” The RNC recently has said it would let an investigation play out before returning money raised by its now-resigned former finance chair, Steve Wynn, who faces multiple sexual assault allegations.

But the White House decided to, instead, provide Porter a ringing endorsement. It opted to provide the kind of statements you would expect if they were convinced of Porter’s innocence.

Images of Colbie Holderness after an alleged incident with her then-husband Rob Porter in the early 2000s. (Courtesy of Colbie Holderness)

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was just as effusive.

“I have worked directly with Rob Porter nearly every day for the last year, and the person I know is someone of the highest integrity and exemplary character,” Sanders said. “Those of us who have the privilege of knowing him are better people because of it.”

Exactly how these statements found their way into the public domain is something we’re likely to see reporters dig into Thursday. Could it have been steered by communications director Hope Hicks, who is reportedly dating Porter? Was it merely an overreaction spurred by a siege mentality? Did Kelly, who has earned growing criticism for his comments this week about how young undocumented immigrants were “too lazy” to sign up for DACA (and then doubled down after a backlash), decide he wasn’t going to bow to media pressure?

Whatever the case, and whether this was emotion or calculation, it is remarkable just how wrong the White House got this one. Porter has reportedly not received a full security clearance, despite his high-ranking role as staff secretary — a gatekeeper serving closely alongside Kelly. Both ex-wives told The Post that they informed the FBI of Porter’s abuse during background interviews. And one of his ex-wives, Jennie Willoughby, told The Post that after she wrote a blog post about the abuse in April — without naming Porter — he repeatedly asked her to take it down and cited delays in his clearance process.

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Assuming all of that is accurate, it’s an indictment of how the White House handled Porter’s entire employment and an even bigger indictment of the staff’s initial reactions to the news Tuesday. It’s tough to believe nobody was asking questions about why Porter hadn’t received a full security clearance. But even if nobody cared to ask before, you have to believe they would ask once the Daily Mail confronted them with the allegations from the first ex-wife.

And if all of that is true, it’s impossible to understand how Kelly was truly “shocked” by any of this. It’s also really, really hard to understand why the White House didn’t check to make doubly sure that their initial statements about Porter wouldn’t come back to bite them — especially on an issue as sensitive as domestic abuse.

President Trump has repeatedly assured that he only hires the best people. This episode suggests the White House staff is either incompetent or has way too much hubris.

Turkish Court Releases, Re-Arrests Amnesty International’s Taner Kilic



Justice Deferred: Uproar After Turkish Court Releases, Re-Arrests Amnesty International’s Taner Kilic

Supporters gather outside the courthouse in Turkey. Photo by Arzu Geybullayeva.

A small crowd was gathered outside Caglayan court. They held “Free Taner” signs while representatives from the Amnesty International’s Turkey office were read their demands out loud.

“We demand an unconditional release for Taner,” said one of the human rights defenders, speaking to a group of journalists at the January 31 gathering.

There was a palpable burst of surprise and relief among family and friends when the court ordered the conditional release of Taner Kilic, chair of Amnesty International Turkey, who has spent eight months in prison. He was the only one left behind bars after the court released all members of the #Istanbul10 human rights defenders group in October of last year.

This joy was short-lived, however. The prosecutor — who had already requested that Taner be kept in detention — immediately appealed the decision, and the second court granted the request.

Just a day later, the first court accepted the second court’s decision to continue his detention. Kilic is now likely to remain in jail until the next hearing, which is scheduled for June 21, 2018.

‘Crisis in Turkey’s justice system’

In a statement following the reversal, Amnesty’s Secretary General Salil Shetty said:

This is the latest example of the crisis in Turkey’s justice system that is ruining lives and hollowing out the right to a fair trial. To have been granted release only to have the door to freedom so callously slammed in his face is devastating for Taner, his family and all who stand for justice in Turkey.

Kilic is accused of being a member of a terrorist group, a charge that his supporters and the international human rights community have broadly dismissed as bogus. More precisely, Kilic is accused of using a messaging app called ByLock that was allegedly used by coup plotters in July 2016.

Kilic and his lawyers argued no such app was ever downloaded on his phone during the hearing yesterday.

Taner presents the evidence that he didn’t download or use ByLock. The prosecution hasn’t presented any that he did. Despite this, the prosecutor requests that Taner remains in pre-trial prison detention.

Taner’s lawyer presents a third expert witness report to the court that again concludes that Taner didn’t use ByLock. This one shows that Taner had two ‘mor beyin’ apps known to falsely show connections to ByLock. It is absolutely clear that Taner didn’t have ByLcok.

Kilic joined the hearing via video link as he was bring held in a prison in the western province of Izmir. He has denied using the app on many occasions, including on January 31. After several hours of witness questioning, the court took a brief recess, after which it announced its ultimately short-lived decision to release Kilic on bail.

At that moment, a collective burst of joy could be felt in the air and online:

The brother and daughter of overjoyed at the news of Taner’s release. One step towards justice!

Great news, long overdue. Congratulations to Team Turkey and all our campaigners and activists who worked so hard over the 8 month period of unjust confinement! The fight for human rights in Turkey continues. Too many human rights defenders still in jail. https://twitter.com/andrewegardner/status/958674883063500800 

Just hours later, the news of the new court decision sent a devastating blow to Taner’s family:

“To have been granted release only to have the door to freedom so callously slammed in his face is devastating for Taner, his family & all who stand for justice in Turkey.” @amnesty‘s @SalilShetty on the re-arrest & re-detention of . : http://amn.st/6015D3FRf 

The last 24 hours:

1. Court A orders the release of Amnesty’s Turkey chair Taner Kilic (yesterday) after nearly 8 months in prison

2. After prosecutor appeals, court B orders Kilic to remain in custody (last night)

3. Court A overturns its original verdict (this morning). https://twitter.com/p_zalewski/status/958813288489521152 

Here we are. Our colleague, @amnesty Turkey chair will NOT be released. The court changed its mind… Why? Who knows, no grounds provided. Devastating for the family and an affront to justice. https://twitter.com/andrewegardner/status/959011266286235648 

This is not the first time a court has overruled its own decision.

The Istanbul trial court has now overturned its own release verdict it made yesterday. Taner will stay in pre-trial detention. What (or who) made them do it? This is devastating for Taner’s family and a disgrace to justice.

Too sorry for Taner and for Turkish Judiciary Unfortunately it is not a new issue , several release decision have not been enforced in Turkey . pic.twitter.com/DrnEwh12kF

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Utterly shocking! Ordering prisoners’ release and immediately throwing them back to jail seems to become a habit of ‘s judiciary. This was applied to several last year.

Stop this cruel game, ! https://twitter.com/andrewegardner/status/958828842449297408 

The author of this article attended the January 31 hearing at the Caglayan courthouse in Istanbul.

Turkey launches Syria offensive against Kurdish faction


(The war criminal Erdogan continues his murder campaign against Kurdish people, U.S. does nothing to stop him from murdering the only people in the region who helped the U.S. eliminate ISIS.) (Commentary by (trs))  

Turkey launches Syria offensive against Kurdish faction

Ankara wants to remove threat from YPG group, which enjoys close ties to US, and thwart establishment of a Kurdish corridor along its border

This photo released by the press office of the Kurdish militia, People's Protection Units or YPG, shows protesters waving giant flags of the YPG and other parties and militias, during a demonstration against Turkish threats, in Afrin, Aleppo province, north Syria on Thursday, Jan 18, 2018. (YPG Press Office via AP)

This photo released by the press office of the Kurdish militia, People’s Protection Units or YPG, shows protesters waving giant flags of the YPG and other parties and militias, during a demonstration against Turkish threats, in Afrin, Aleppo province, north Syria on Thursday, Jan 18, 2018. (YPG Press Office via AP)

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s defense minister said Friday there is no turning back from his country’s decision to launch a ground assault on a Syrian Kurdish-controlled enclave in northwest Syria, saying the offensive had “de facto” started with the sporadic Turkish military shelling of the area.

Nurettin Canikli told Turkey’s A Haber television in an interview that the Syrian Kurdish fighters in the enclave of Afrin and other Kurdish-controlled territories pose a “real” and ever increasing threat to Turkey.

“This operation will take place; the terror organization will be cleansed,” Canikli said in reference to the Syrian Kurdish group, the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which Turkey says is an extension of an outlawed Kurdish rebel group that is fighting inside Turkey.

Turkey wants to remove the threat from YPG group and thwart the establishment of a Kurdish corridor along its border. It has been massive troops and tanks along the border in past weeks.

The US however has developed close ties with the YPG over the shared fight against the Islamic State group.

Canikli said Turkey was determined to carry out an offensive in Afrin, and would not be turn back from its decision. He said the operation had “de facto” begun, in reference to Turkish artillery attacks that have been taking place against suspected YPG targets.

He would not say when the operation would take place saying authorities were working out the best timing for the assault. They were also working to minimize possible losses for Turkish troops, he said, without providing details. Canikli said the operation would be conducted by Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters with Turkish troop support.

Canikli also said Turkey had detailed information about the YPG’s military capabilities, adding that Turkey had developed sophisticated weapons since its last incursion into Syria in 2016 that were able to counter them.

In a stark warning to Turkey, Syria said on Thursday said its air defense would shoot down any Turkish jets that carry out attacks within Syria. Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdad said a military incursion into Afrin would be “no picnic” for Turkey and would be considered an “aggressive act.”


Plane Skids off Runway, Over Cliff in Northern Turkey



Plane Skids off Runway, Over Cliff in Northern Turkey

By Melissa Kory

4 hours ago


A Boeing 737-800 of Turkey’s Pegasus Airlines after skidding off the runway downhill towards the sea at the airport in Trabzon, Turkey, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018. Trabzon Gov. Yucel Yavuz said all 162 passengers and crew on board were evacuated and safe early Sunday. The cause of the accident was not yet known. (DHA-Depo Photos via AP)

At a Glance

  • A plane with 168 people skidded off a runway in northern Turkey.
  • The plane came to rest on a slope close to the Black Sea.
  • No injuries were reported.

A commercial airplane skidded off a runway and down the side of a cliff overlooking the Black Sea while landing at an airport in the northern Turkish province of Trabzon Saturday night.

“Light rain was reported at the Trabzon airport late Saturday night into early Sunday morning,” weather.com meteorologist Christopher Dolce said.

The Pegasus Airlines Boeing 737-800 had 162 passengers and six crew members on board, according to the Associated Press.

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter

flight overruns the runway at Airport in All 162 passengers were evacuated with only minor injuries reported.

The passengers were evacuated and no injuries were reported. The cause of the incident is still being investigated, BBC reports.

“We tilted to the side, the front was down while the plane’s rear was up. There was panic; people shouting, screaming,” Fatma Gordu, who was on the flight, told state-run news agency Anadolu.

“It’s a miracle we escaped. We could have burned, exploded, flown into the sea,” Gordu said. “Thank God for this. I feel like I’m going crazy when I think about it.”

The airport was closed for several hours before resuming flights on Sunday morning.

Assad Must Go, Says Turkey’s Leader Erdogan




Syrian soldiers parade past a banner depicting President Bashar al-Assad during a government celebration in December 2017. CreditGeorge Ourfalian/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Turkey’s leader denounced President Bashar al-Assad of Syria on Wednesday as a terrorist mass murderer with no place in that country’s postwar future, scrapping a softened approach that Turkish officials had taken toward Mr. Assad in recent years.

The statement by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey came as Mr. Assad seemed more confident than ever that he has won the war and will remain Syria’s leader for the foreseeable future. It also came against the backdrop of maneuvering by many powers — most notably Russia and Iran, Mr. Assad’s most important allies — to influence the outcome of a devastating conflict that has reshaped Middle East politics.

One of the first leaders in the region to condemn Mr. Assad when the conflict began in 2011, Mr. Erdogan had in recent months signaled a willingness to accept Mr. Assad’s political longevity.

The Turkish leader’s shift on Wednesday was a reminder of their hostility, coming as Mr. Assad has demonstrated greater swagger over his grip from military gains over the past year, largely with Russia’s help.

In a new sign of his confidence, Mr. Assad even allowed a modest medical evacuation of civilians on Wednesday from one of the last rebel enclaves in the country, near Damascus.

Continue reading the main story

Mr. Erdogan appeared to be reminding Russia that it cannot dictate Syria’s future alone, especially on issues sensitive to Turkey, most notably those involving Syria’s Kurdish groups, which Turkey sees as enemies.

Russia on Tuesday said that representatives of a semiautonomous Kurdish area in northeastern Syria would be allowed to take part in talks that Russia is hosting next month — an inclusion opposed by Turkey.

“Assad, I am saying this loud and clear, is a terrorist who spreads state terrorism,” Mr. Erdogan said at a joint news conference with the Tunisian president, Beji Caid Essebsi, in Tunis. “Would the Syrian people like to see someone like this stay in charge?”

In remarks quoted by Turkish news agencies, Mr. Erdogan also said: “It is absolutely impossible to move ahead with Assad in Syria. For what? How could we embrace the future with the president of a Syria who killed close to one million of its citizens?”

Furious over the insult, Syria’s Foreign Ministry called Mr. Erdogan a terrorist supporter who bore “prime responsibility for the bloodshed in Syria.”

The conflict has killed hundreds of thousands — there are no reliable figures — along with upending roughly half of Syria’s prewar population and contributing to a migration crisis that has reverberated around the world. At least 5.4 million Syrians are refugees and more than six million are internally displaced, the United Nations says.

Russia and Iran have always backed Mr. Assad, while Turkey supports some Syrian rebel groups. Despite their differences, the three nations have been collaborating on diplomacy aimed at ending the war.

All three also have been jockeying for position in the country’s post-conflict future, even as their efforts to end the fighting have proved only partly successful.

Mr. Erdogan’s statement appeared to signal more of a tough negotiating stance than a rupture with Russia, which has been enjoying an improved relationship with Turkey, a NATO member. Even as Mr. Erdogan spoke, his government in Ankara was finalizing a $2.5 billion deal to purchase Russian S-400 missile systems.

It is possible the Russians welcomed Mr. Erdogan’s tough line toward Mr. Assad, because they want to play a leading role in any peace deal. That means delivering an often recalcitrant Mr. Assad to negotiations.


Patients being taken to hospitals in Damascus as part of a medical evacuation of Eastern Ghouta.CreditAbdulmonam Eassa/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A main issue between Russia and Turkey has involved Syria’s Kurds. Mr. Erdogan has made clear lately that preventing them from maintaining a semiautonomous area bordering Turkey has become a higher priority than toppling Mr. Assad.

But Moscow has been eager to include Kurdish groups in peace talks. It has won greater inclusion for them in the United Nations-backed talks in Geneva — though not through the separate Kurdish delegation that the Kurds wanted — and now has invited numerous Kurdish representatives to Sochi, the southern Russia resort town where talks that Moscow calls a Syrian “national dialogue” will supposedly be held in late January.

Turkey, by contrast, had hoped that Russia and Iran would use their leverage to ostracize the Kurds and exclude them from those talks.

“It hasn’t worked well,” Andrew J. Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said of Turkey’s effort on the Kurds. Insistence on blunting Kurdish power in Syria, he said, “takes the limelight in Turkey.”

A previous attempt to convene talks in Sochi, in November, failed when Turkey withdrew over objections to Kurdish participation.

The planned January meeting has also been widely snubbed by Mr. Assad’s Syrian opponents. Forty rebel groups declared Tuesday that they would not take part.

Before the Arab revolts of 2011, relations between Syria and Turkey were neighborly, along a border that stretches more than 500 miles. But six months into the Syrian uprising — which began with political protests met with a harsh security crackdown — Mr. Erdogan broke with Mr. Assad, saying he must step down.

Mr. Erdogan then went on to finance Syrian rebel groups and later allowed foreign recruits to the Islamic State and other jihadist militant groups to stream through Turkey into Syria.

But the Syrian war has taken a toll on Turkey, which is housing more than three million refugees and has suffered deadly attacks by the Islamic State and Kurdish groups.

Soon after Russia began its air campaign on behalf of Mr. Assad’s government in 2015, Turkey shot down a Russian warplane. Russia retaliated with sanctions that were devastating for Turkish trade and tourism.

Turkey’s antipathy toward the Kurds, oddly, is partly responsible for the reconciliation in Turkish-Russian relations and a Turkish shift away from insistence that Mr. Assad must go.

As Russian air power severely weakened Syria’s rebel forces, Turkey was willing to temper its support for them in exchange for Russia’s assent to a Turkish sphere of influence in northern Syria, where Turkey could block Kurdish expansion.

Mr. Erdogan’s condemnation of Mr. Assad on Wednesday came as the Syrian leader appeared to allow a humanitarian breakthrough, albeit a small one, in the besieged Syrian rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta, home to about 400,000 people and the only major rebel stronghold near Damascus.

The International Committee of the Red Cross in Syria said on Wednesday that after protracted negotiations, it had been able to start medical evacuations from Eastern Ghouta.

The enclave has been targeted by Mr. Assad’s forces, and the United Nations has pleaded for his government to allow for the evacuation of around 500 patients, including children with cancer.

The Syrian American Medical Society said four patients had been taken to hospitals in Damascus, the first of 29 critical cases approved for medical evacuation, with the remainder to be evacuated over the coming days.

Jerusalem, Israel, And The Palestinian People

Jerusalem, Israel, And The Palestinian People


So, tomorrow December the 6th President Trump is supposed to say whether or not he is going to officially recognize Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and if the U.S. is going to move our Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. So, this article this evening is simply my thoughts on this issue, I am not consulting other writers nor any pre-written documents. I am only going by articles that I have already read during my lifetime, up to this point in time. I know that no matter what I say, I am going to get a lot of people angry simply because I don’t agree with them.

Today the President of Turkey, Mr. Erdogan threatened to cut relations with Israel if Mr. Trump goes ahead with the Jerusalem Capital issue. To me, this is a fraudulent concept, if Mr. Erdogan wants to cut relations with any country it should be the U.S. not Israel. Israel cannot control what comes out of the mouth of Donald Trump, no one can. It is said that the whole of the ‘Arab League’ will cause many deaths if Mr. Trump goes through with this announcement. These type of threats help show the ‘low road’ of the Islamic leaders, not their intelligence. It is also because of threats like this that would cause a narcissists like Trump to not bow down to such a threat because it would/will make him look weak and in this case, that is actually true.

Now, for my personal thoughts on how to make the Jerusalem Capital issue work for all sides, yet at the same time not make any side totally happy. Isn’t that pretty much what the definition of what a compromise is? My idea is for Jerusalem to be declared the Capital of Palestine, all of Palestine. This would encompass all of Palestine and all the people of Palestine, Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, the people of Gaza and of the West Bank. This way it is everyone’s Capital. All people of this region, no matter if they are Israeli Jews or residents of the ‘so called’ Palestinians of the West Bank can prove that they are capable of recognizing each others right to exist, in peace with each other.

Because of the current security issues raised by terrorist groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS and the PLO plus the fact that Jerusalem was the Capital of Israel at least 1,600 years before Mohammad was even born, Israel would have to have control of the security issues within all of the city. Maybe in time these folks who are hell-bent on violence will mature into civilized human beings and the ‘walls’ of security can be let down. Israel on their side would need to allow the Palestinian people to have such things as their Embassy in Eastern Jerusalem once there is a two State agreement in place. All sides of this issue should be allowed to call Jerusalem their Capital. Jerusalem is the ‘City of God’ and it should be able to be an ‘International’ City. Yet the only way for this to come about is if groups like Hamas who refuse the existence of the State of Israel to lay down all of their weapons. Israel can not allow its citizens to continue to be fodder to murderers, so until all Islamic groups in the Palestine region agree to commit no violence, there can not be a safe and secure two State compromise.

Another reality is that even though Mr. Trump seems to think that he decides if Jerusalem is the Capital of Israel, he actually has no say so in the matter. Jerusalem is and has been the Capital of the people of Israel for more than 2,600 years. It is God who decided that Jerusalem is His City. The world can call Tel Aviv Israels Capital, but it has never been Israels Capital, Jerusalem is. But there is no reason that all of the people of Palestine can not call Jerusalem their Capital as it is the Capital of all of Palestine.



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