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Turkey shifting Syria strategy after Kurdish militia’s attacks



Turkey is shifting to a proxy force strategy and diplomacy with the US and Russia to counter the Kurdish People’s Defense Units in Syria instead of deploying its own troops, analysts have said.

It comes after senior Turkish officials hinted at a strategy change regarding the war-torn country following deadly attacks by the militia in the Kurdish-dominated Tal Rifaat region, which targeted Turkish police officers.

The militia has also engaged in a cross-border shelling campaign against nearby Turkish villages.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Ankara was “determined to remove all threats in northern Syria,” while Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu pledged that Turkey “would do what is necessary for its security,” adding that neither the US or Russia had kept their promises to ensure the withdrawal of the militia from the Syrian border.

But the Turkish government has said that the military will pursue a “much more different campaign” in northern Syria, sparking debate over whether Ankara will engage in diplomatic talks with the US and Russia before launching possible military action.

The militia is the chief local partner of the US in its fight against Daesh in the region, while Turkey considers the Kurdish group and its political wing, the Democratic Union Party, as Syrian extensions of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has fought a civil war against the Turkish state for more than three decades.

In the meantime, the Syrian Liberation Front branch of the Syrian National Army said that it is “determined to clear our regions from all terror groups,” including the Kurdistan Workers’s Party, Democratic Union Party and Daesh.

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish program at the Washington Institute, said that every time Russian President Vladimir Putin has allowed Turkey to enter Syria and seize territory from the Kurdish militia, he has demanded that Turkey end its support for rebel groups.

“This involved a land exchange with either Turkey taking territories from the YPG (Kurdish People’s Defense Units in Syria) or the Bashar Assad regime taking territories from the hands of the rebels. But this new model that we are talking right now is a bit different from this one. Now, Turkish-backed troops in Syria, instead of Turkish troops, might move in to take an area from the YPG with a tacit agreement from Putin,” he said.

According to Cagaptay, Ankara’s broader strategy is to divide the militia-controlled zones and prevent the formation of any future political entity in the group’s territory.

“The recent Erdogan-Putin deal in Sochi aimed at implementing this new model,” he said.

Amid particularly sensitive times for US-Turkey relations, a growing emphasis on diplomatic channels outweighs military action, he added. Erdogan is expected to discuss the issue with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome at the end of October.

After their recent meeting in Sochi, Erdogan will also talk to Putin following his meeting with Biden.

According to Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund of the US, the threat that Turkey sees in the Kurdish militia is the possibility of a Kurdish state being formed close to its borders.

“Ankara is therefore taking whatever measures it can to prevent this from happening,” he said.

Unluhisarcikli said that current conditions mean that it is unsuitable for Turkey to conduct military operations against YPG-held territories in northwest or northeast Syria.

Therefore, Ankara will push diplomatic channels to proceed efficiently, he added.

“Turkey is already in a tense relationship with Russia over Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province and would not like to add a new layer to these tensions. At a time when Turkey is trying to improve relations with US, it would not like to introduce a new headache,” he said.

Meanwhile, during a press conference last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the Biden administration does not support efforts to normalize relations with the Assad regime.

Experts also note that the fate of Idlib province, hosting about 4 million civilians under the control of Turkish-backed rebels, will be critical in the coming days in shaping the calculus of Turkey’s relationship with Syria, with a potential migrant influx causing domestic political worries for Ankara.

On Saturday, shelling by regime forces of the opposition-held town of Sarmada on the northern outskirts of Idlib near the Turkish border killed four people and wounded more than a dozen, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Arabic and international

Four Houthi missiles hit densely populated Marib city in Yemen




Three Yemeni civilians were wounded when four missiles fired by the Iran-backed Houthis landed in residential areas in Yemen’s central city of Marib as heavy fighting rages outside the strategic city, local officials and residents said on Sunday.

Large explosions rocked the city after the four missiles hit the airport, Al-Shareka and Rawdha neighborhoods, residents said.

Footage on social media showed thick smoke billowing from shelled areas as people fled.

Yemen’s Information Minister called on the UN and the US Yemen envoys to condemn the Houthi missile attacks and to designate the Houthi movement as a terrorist organization.

“The Houthi militia’s repeated targeting of the city of Marib, which is crowded with millions of residents and displaced people, with ballistic missiles is part of its attempts to inflict a big number of casualties among civilians. This is a cowardly act of revenge,” Moammar Al-Eryani said on Twitter.

The Houthi shelling of Marib came as the Arab coalition announced it had intercepted four explosive-rigged drones fired by the Houthis at southern areas in Saudi Arabia.

The coalition also said it had killed more than 115 Houthis in the past 24 hours after targeting their locations and military vehicles with 19 airstrikes in the provinces of Jouf and Marib, bringing the total number of Houthi deaths during the past 48 hours to more than 175.

At the same time, fierce fighting between government troops and the Houthis broke out on Sunday in flashpoint sites south of Marib city as the Houthis intensified their attacks, a local military official said.

The official said dozens of Houthis were killed in fighting in different locations in Juba district and seven others surrendered to government troops.

Yemeni military officials usually link the Houthi arbitrary shelling of the city of Marib to the death of rebel military leaders or defeats they have suffered.

“We think that a number of high-ranking Houthi military leaders were killed on Sunday in Marib province,” the official said.

The commander of the 143rd Infantry Brigade in Marib, Brig. Gen. Thayab Abdul Waded Al-Qibili, said on Sunday that army troops killed dozens of Houthis and destroyed 10 military vehicles during heavy fighting in Marib’s Rowdhat Jehim, praising the Arab coalition’s warplanes for targeting Houthi military reinforcements on the battlefields south of Marib, Yemen’s Defense Ministry news site reported.

Thousands of combatants and civilians have been killed in the province of Marib since February when the Houthis renewed a military offensive to seize control of the energy-rich city of Marib, the government’s last bastion in the north.

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Arabic and international

Abu Dhabi crown prince, Blinken discuss regional issues




Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed spoke with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday to discuss “important regional matters,” the US State Department said.

Sheikh Mohammed and Blinken “reaffirmed their countries’ strong partnership and discussed ways to broaden and deepen their wide-ranging cooperation,” spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

“Blinken also thanked the crown prince for the UAE’s generous support in hosting and facilitating the safe transit of US citizens, embassy personnel, and foreign nationals from Afghanistan to third countries, and commended the UAE for providing humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan,” Price added.

Meanwhile, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed held separate talks with his counterparts from Oman, India and Sri Lanka on the sidelines of the two-day 5th Indian Ocean Conference, which kicked off on Saturday in Abu Dhabi.

During the meetings, Sheikh Abdullah discussed strategic relations and ways to enhance prospects for joint cooperation in all fields, as well as the latest regional and international developments.

Sheikh Abdullah welcomed Oman’s Foreign Minister Sayyid Badr Al-Busaidi, and stressed the depth of the relations between the UAE and the sultanate.

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed meets his Omani counterpart Sayyid Badr Al-Busaidi in Abu Dhabi. (WAM)

India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar praised the strong friendship between the UAE and his country, and their strategic partnership which is witnessing continuous growth and development.

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed meets his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in Abu Dhabi. (WAM)

Sheikh Abdullah also welcomed Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Gamini Lakshman Pierce to Abu Dhabi and the two sides discussed bilateral relations and ways to support them in various fields, including tourism.

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed meets his Sri Lankan counterpart Gamini Lakshman Pierce in Abu Dhabi. (WAM)

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Arabic and international

Sudanese group condemns UN’s call to support reinstated premier




Sudan's former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.

A Sudanese pro-democracy group has condemned comments by the UN chief urging citizens to support a deal that reinstated Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, so the country can have “a peaceful transition toward a true democracy.”

The Sudanese Professionals’ Association, which was at the forefront of the uprising against former autocrat Omar Bashir, rejected late on Friday Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s comments as a “moral and political failure.”

Hamdok was deposed as part of the Oct. 25 coup by military leaders that brought international criticism and disrupted Sudan’s fragile transition to democracy. He was reinstated last month amid international pressure in a deal that calls for an independent technocratic Cabinet under military oversight.

The SPA said Guterres’s comments were seen as a “justification for violence” against anti-coup protesters, who vowed to continue their street demonstrations against the deal despite deadly violence by security forces.

The US, its allies and the UN have condemned the use of excessive force against protesters who have since taken to the streets en masse. Dozens of protesters were killed and hundreds of others were wounded since the Oct. 25 coup. The agreement, signed on Nov. 21, has angered Sudan’s pro-democracy movement, which accuses Hamdok of allowing himself to serve as a fig leaf for continued military rule.

Guterres told a news conference Wednesday that he understands “the indignation” and outrage of Sudanese who have seen the military coup and don’t want any solution involving the military.

“But I would like to appeal for common sense,” he said. “We have a situation which is, yes, not perfect, but which could allow for a transition toward democracy.”

The UN chief warned that calling into question the solution that led to Hamdok’s reinstatement “would be very dangerous for Sudan.”

The SPA said it would continue peaceful protests until the establishment of a “full civilian” government to achieve the democratic transition.

Since his appointment in 2019, Hamdok has been the civilian face of the government and one of the pro-democracy movement’s most respected figures.

But Sudan’s key pro-democracy groups and political parties have said the deal that reinstated him falls short of their demands for full civilian rule.

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