Syria Daily, Nov 28: Russia and Turkey Throw Political Jabs at Each Other

PHOTO: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: “Russia Should Not Play With Fire” (AA)


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Russia and Turkey threw political jabs at each other on Friday over Syria’s conflict, with Ankara’s offer of talks met by Moscow’s allegations of Turkish support of the Islamic State.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan struck a tough pose while holding out the offer of talks to reduce tensions over Ankara’s shootdown of a Russian warplane last Tuesday. Speaking to an audience in northern Turkey, he initially accused the Russians of provoking a crisis:

[Russian President Vladimir] Putin says ‘those who have double standards on terrorism are playing with fire.’ I totally agree with him….

Supporting the [Bashar] al-Assad regime in Syria, which has killed 380,000 people, is playing with fire. Striking opposition groups that have international legitimacy with the excuse of fighting against Daesh [an acronym of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL] is playing with fire. Using an incident in which Turkey’s righteousness is accepted by the whole world as an excuse to torment our citizens who were in Russia to attend a fair is playing with fire. Irresponsibly hitting trucks in the region that are there for trade or humanitarian reasons is playing with fire. We sincerely advise Russia not to play with fire.

However, Erdoğan then expressed his willingness to meet Putin during an upcoming climate change summit in Paris to find common ground and avoid a further escalation of tension: “We are uncomfortable with efforts to take the dispute over the downed jet into other areas of relations. Let’s not allow that to happen.”

The Kremlin responded by rejecting the suggestion of a meeting. It said that Putin — who had spurred Erdoğan’s comment by accused Turkey of trading for the Islamic State’s oil — has refused the Turkish President’s phone calls since the downing of the Russian Su-24 because he is waiting for an apology.

Turkish officials have repeatedly refused to make that apology, saying the Russian warplane was fired upon while in Turkey’s airspace.

Russia Maintains Pressure

While Erdoğan and Putin fenced with each other, Moscow combined new proposals with accusations of Turkish collusion with the Islamic State.

After a meeting with his Syrian counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov promoted an initiative to block the Turkish-border, first suggested by French President Francois Hollande during a visit to Moscow earlier this week:

We actively support that. We are open for coordination of practical steps, certainly, in interaction with the Syrian government. We are convinced that by blocking the border we will in many respects solve the tasks to eradicate terrorism on Syrian soil.

While Hollande’s suggestion was aimed at cutting off movement of Islamic State fighters and resources, Russia is likely to see the step as an effective measure against the rebels challenging the Assad regime.

Since Wednesday, Russian has stepped up airstrikes on and near border crossings between Turkey and opposition-controlled territory in northwest Syria, hitting Turkish trucks, infrastructure, and civilian areas.

See Syria Daily, Nov 26: Russia Hits Back With Bombing of Civilian Targets & Turkish Aid Trucks

However, Lavrov kept the focus on Turkey and the Islamic State with allegations of their cooperation:

We think it highly cynical when some of the countries speak about their commitment to the corresponding United Nations Security Council resolutions and declare themselves members of anti-terrorist coalitions but in reality are playing a game where terrorists are allocated the role of secret allies. We have more and more questions about Ankara’s real plans and the degree of its readiness to exterminate terrorism, in particular in Syria, and its commitment to the normalization of the situation in Syria.

The Foreign Minister was blatant in his attempt to split the US and European states from the Turks: “It is up to our partners, including those who are members of the coalition formed last year by the United States, which has yielded no visible results as of yet.”

Russian media and the Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid al-Moallem, backed Lavrov’s effort with the claim that President Erdoğan’s son, Bilal, may be involved in the oil trade with ISIS.

Moallem said, “I’d like to mention rumors that Erdogan’s son could be involved in illegal oil trade with the IS, although there is no proof. If I was in [US Secretary of State John] Kerry’s place, I’d make an attempt to shed light on these reports.”

Lavrov propped up the allegation, “There have been many reports that god knows who is living off the oil wells illegally seized by the Islamic State.”

Moscow: Turkish Jets Entered Syrian Airspace to Down Our Jet

The Russian military tried a new line on Friday over the downing of its Su-24 strike aircraft, insisting that a Turkish F-16 jet entered Syrian territory to fire its missile.

The commander-in-chief of the Russian Aerospace Forces, Viktor Bondarev, said the F-16 went two km (1.25 miles) inside Syria, remaining in Syrian airspace for 40 seconds.

Bondarev declared the Russian Su-24 never crossed the border into Turkish airspace.

Ankara has maintained since Tuesday that it sent 10 warnings in five minutes to two Su-24s as they approached Turkish airspace. They say that the downed warplane was over Turkish territory for 17 seconds.

In the latest breaking of links with Ankara, the Russian military said that it is suspending participation in the Black Sea Force’s multilateral naval drills.


Videos and Photos: More Russia Airstrikes on Aid Trucks & Civilians on Turkish-Syrian Border

Activists post photographs of the latest Russian airstrikes on aid trucks near the Turkish-Syrian border:

Russia also struck infrastructure and civilian areas across Idlib Province, including an ambulance, and a Red Cross water well and wheat storage facility. There are claims of multiple casualties, including 11 members of a family, from Russian attacks on Binnish in Idlib Province.

The attack on the water well and wheat storage facility in Maarat al-Nu’man:

Russia has stepped up attacks on trucks, border crossings, and infrastructure in Aleppo and Idlib Province since Tuesday’s downing of a Russian Su-24 strike aircraft by Turkish jets.


Video: Kafranbel Protest Sends Messages to Russia, Assad, & US

The protesters of Kafranbel in northwest Syria challenge the Russian military intervention and Assad regime, and send a message to the US:


Rebel Clashes Escalate with Dissident Faction and Kurds in Northern Syria

This week’s clashes between rebels, a dissident faction, and Kurds escalated further in northwest Syria on Friday.

The Free Syrian Army has accused the Jaish al-Thuwar faction, led by dissident commander Jamal Maarouf, of killing civilians in the village of Tanab in northern Aleppo Province. The FSA said the 20 victims included women and children.

The FSA declared Jaish al-Thuwar was a “traitor and collaborator”, having accused the group of allying with Kurdish militia who have begun attacking rebels.

Maarouf was the commander of the Syrian Revolutionary Front, which fell out with other rebel factions in late 2014 and was driven out of Syria in a battle with the Islamist faction Jabhat al-Nusra.

See also Syria Feature: Kurds Clash With Rebels in North

Meanwhile, the leading rebel faction Ahrar al-Sham has declared the Sheikh Maqsoud area of Aleppo city a “military zone” amid clashes with Kurdish militia.

Fighting erupted this week between rebels, Jaish al-Thuwar, and the Kurdish units in the area near Kurdish-held Afrin and opposition-controlled Atmeh and Azaz in northwest Syria near the Turkish border.


Video: Jabhat al-Nusra Drone Footage of Advance South of Aleppo

High-resolution footage from the Islamist faction Jabhat al-Nusra of their advance against the Syrian military and foreign allies in Tel Bajer, south of Aleppo city:


Opposition Coalition Forms New Military Council

The externally-based opposition Syrian National Coalition has formed a new military council that includes representatives of rebel factions.

The Coalition said in an announcement that the council was established after meetings in Istanbul on Monday and Tuesday with rebel groups including Jaish al-Islam, prominent in the Damascus suburbs. The 44 members will hold their first meeting within a week.

The development comes as Saudi Arabia is trying to organize a conference in Riyadh among opposition and rebel groups. The Saudis are seeking a unified front amid international discussions about a political transition, including opposition-regime meetings.

A local source observes that, despite the Coalition’s projection of its leadership, “Groups operating within syria have the say….Rebels have Coalition in the boat not the other way round.”

The source adds that the proposed bloc is still “fragile” with some factions, including Free Syrian Army units, still to accept the council.

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Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.

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