PHOTO: Free Syrian Army fighter takes a selfie as convoy moves towards Jarablus
- Conjoined Twins Die in Damascus Hospital
- Videos: Russian-Regime Airstrikes on Homs Province
- OPCW: Traces of Chemical Weapons in Regime Labs
- Spokesman: “Jabhat al-Nusra No Longer Needs Al Qa’eda”
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UPDATE 1720 GMT: Both Russia and the Assad regime have criticized the Turkish intervention.
The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement:
Moscow is deeply concerned about the events in the area of the Syrian-Turkish border. Above all, there is cause for alarm in the possibility of further degradation of the situation in the conflict zone, including the taking into account of possible collateral victims among the civilian population and the worsening of inter-ethnic tensions between Kurds and Arabs.
We are convinced that the Syrian crisis can be settled exclusively on the firm foundation of international law, through a broad intra-Syrian dialogue with the participation of all ethno-confessional groups, including the Kurds.
Syria’s State news agency SANA posted the regime’s demand for an end to “aggression”, transmitted by a Foreign MInistry official: “Any move to combat terrorism on Syrian territories should have been coordinated with the Syrian government and army.”
UPDATE 1550 GMT: Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani has given implicit acceptance of the Turkish intervention in Syria, despite its challenge to Syrian Kurds.
Barzani, the President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government, told a press conference during a visit to Turkey, “I have met with Turkish officials and discussed the fight against the Islamic State as well as the presence of schools linked to the Hizmet movement [of US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, a foe of Turkey’s President Erdoğan] in the Kurdistan Region.”
UPDATE 1520 GMT: A rebel spokesman says troops have entered Jarablus.
Captain Abdel Salam Abdel-Razzak of the Nour al-Din al-Zinki faction said rebels are combing the town for “pockets” of Islamic State fighters.
The rebel bloc Sham Front has announced the liberation of the town.
Pro-opposition activists claim many ISIS members retreated east towards the Euphrates River.
Artur Rosinski‘s map:
UPDATE 1510 GMT: Visiting Ankara, US Vice President Joe Biden has said Syrian Kurdish forces “must move back [east] across the Euphrates River”.
He warned, “They cannot — will not — under any circumstance get American support if they do not keep that commitment.”
Turkey had long held the position that Kurdish militias must not move west of the Euphrates, but the US-supported and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces crossed the “red line” last December in their advance against the Islamic State.
If upheld, Biden’s position is a sharp shift in US policy. It would force the SDF to pull out of Manbij, the ISIS center in Aleppo Province that was captured earlier this month.
Biden made the statement alongside Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, who said Turkey will not allow a new Kurdish formation on its southern border.
Yıldırım said the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) is “the extension of the [Turkish Kurdish insurgency] PKK” and urged Washington to review its position on the groups.
UPDATE 1220 GMT: In his first statement on the intervention, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said, “Attacks coming from Syria must end. We have to solve this issue.”
Significantly, Erdoğan went beyond the nominal foe of the Islamic State to aim at the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD):
[We act] against terror organizations such as Daesh [the Islamic State] and the PYD.
They challenged us. They said, “This and that will happen to Turkey in Syria.” Now I am addressing them: You should think of what will happen to yourselves.
Earlier, PYD leader Salih Muslim tweeted, “Turkey is in Syrian Quagmire. [It] will be defeated just as Daesh. Turkey has much to lose in the Syrian swamp.”
UPDATE 1140 GMT: Turkey media and activists claim Turkish-backed rebels have captured the village of Kaklijah, 5 km (3 miles) west of Jarablus (see map).
— Qalaat Al Mudiq (@QalaatAlMudiq) August 24, 2016
Doğan News Agency said the rebels have captured three other villages, killing 46 ISIS fighters.
Three Free Syrian Army troops were wounded and to Gaziantep in southeastern Turkey for treatment.
UPDATE 1120 GMT: The London-based Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat publishes the provocative claim that Turkish officials hosted a senior Iranian counterpart on Tuesday, with the vision of a reconciliation between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Assad.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari arrived in Ankara on Tuesday for talks. Iranian State media declared, “A new development was seen lately in the policies of the Turkish government towards the crisis in Syria, when it announced its readiness to cooperate with Iran and Russia to solve the Syrian crisis.”
Asharq al-Awsat, citing an unnamed source, said diplomat Ismael Hakki was leading negotiations on the Turkish side.
A retired general, Hakki supervised an agreement reached between Syria and Turkey in 1998 during a crisis over the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Turkey’s armed forces have entered the battle in northern Syria against the Islamic State.
The Turkish military began intense shelling across the border early Wednesday morning, while Turkish and US-led coalition warplanes hit four targets near the key town of Jarablus. Tanks crossed the frontier.
A “senior official” has told Reuters that Turkish special forces moved into Syria to work with rebels. Daily Sabah, a Turkish newspaper close to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, carried a similar assertion from “military sources”.
A military statement said 224 shells were fired on 63 positions.
Turkish forces have periodically shelled ISIS in response to the jihadists’ firing of rockets that have killed and wounds scores of people in southeastern Turkey. However, this morning’s operations appear to be part of a campaign to capture Jarablus and cut off access to the border for Islamic State fighters.
Ankara also wants to ensure that Jarablus is captured by Syrian rebels rather than the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. The urgency of the objective grew earlier this month when the SDF took the city of Manbij, south of Jarablus, from ISIS.
A Syrian rebel with a Turkish-backed faction said fighters are waiting for the signal to enter Jarablus. A second rebel said around 1,500 fighters were now gathered at a location in Turkey for the operation.
A summary from the Turkish Foreign Ministry of “Operation Euphrates Shield”:
Claimed video of a Free Syrian Army convoy on the way to Jarablus:
— Ahmad alkhatib (@AhmadAlkhtiib) August 24, 2016
Turkey fears that Kurdish control of Jarablus will bolster the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK, allied with the main Syrian Kurdish militia YPG and the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim hinted at an escalation of operations last weekend, saying that Turkey would be “more active” in Syria within the next six months.
Last year, the Turkish Government proposed that Jarablus would be the eastern anchor of a 98-km (61-mile) protected zone along the border, but the US dismissed the initiative.
Claimed image of a Turkish tank supporting the rebel operations:
Artur Rosinski‘s map:
Conjoined Twins Die in Damascus Hospital
Conjoined twins who were evacuated from a besieged opposition-held suburb of Damascus have died.
Nawras and Moaz, born on July 23, were joined at the chest with hearts in the same sac. After initially blocking their transfer, the Assad regime relented to their evacuation from Douma on August 12, with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent moving them to a children’s hospital in the capital. However, documents were still awaited for the boys to travel abroad for necessary micro-surgery.
“The whole world couldn’t have the permission to evacuate them,” said Mohammad Katoub of the Syrian American Medical Society, which lobbied for the twins’ move out of Douma. He blamed “interference by the ministry of foreign affairs and its stalling of issuing a travel permit to any country to allow them to receive treatment”.
Videos: Russian-Regime Airstrikes on Homs Province
Treatment of casualties from a regime airstrike on Rastan in northern Homs Province on Wednesday:
Fires burn after an attack on Talbiseh overnight:
Claimed image of incendiary weapons:
OPCW: Traces of Chemical Weapons in Regime Labs
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, mandated in 2013 to monitor the regime’s handover of all chemical weapons stocks, has written in a confidential 75-page report that it has repeatedly found traces of deadly nerve agents in laboratories.
In a two-page summary of the report, OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said majority of 122 samples, taken at “multiple locations”, indicate “potentially undeclared chemical weapons-related activities”.
Uzumcu concluded that the many of the regime’s explanations for the presence of undeclared agents “are not scientifically or technically plausible, and…the presence of several undeclared chemical warfare agents is still to be clarified”.
The revelations come as Syria’s UN Ambassador, Bashar al-Jaafari, accused France of carrying out the August 2013 chemical attacks near Damascus that killed at least 1,400 people.
Spokesman: “Jabhat al-Nusra No Longer Needs Al Qa’eda”
The Intercept has posted an interview with the spokesman of the jihadists of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra), Mostafa Mahamed, also known as Abu Sulayman al-Muhair.
In a striking passage, Mahamed indicates that last month’s declaration by JFS leader Abu Mohammad al-Joulani, ending formal allegiance to Al Qa’eda, is not just a symbolic move with little substantial political change.
At the time, JFS officials said that the renamed group still shared the ideological approach of Al Qa’eda, but Mahamed offers a different vieew, focusing on JFS as a Syrian organization:
By doing this, Jabhat Al-Nusrah was able to focus the efforts of the youth and channel their energies into an Islamic and justified, moral cause. The need for that no longer exists, however. The break was also required in order to fulfill our communal obligations to the Muslims in Syria. The practical implications of the split include the full independence we now enjoy, which gives us more freedom in decision-making. It also removed potential obstacles that stand in the way of a long hoped-for unification of ranks….
People will differ in their views regarding the correct method to bring about change, and we do recognize the need to tolerate these differences and collaborate with all sincere parties working in the right direction. Leaving al Qaeda gives people more room to draw closer and allow for a freer, more comfortable environment for open discussion, without being stigmatized.
Pressed that the move was only for “cosmetic purposes”, Mahamed maintains the line that unity in Syria’s rebellion is the priority:
We genuinely believe it is time to move on from that period and work toward a more pragmatic option that will allow accommodation of a wider audience. Seeking ways to work with a now popular jihad and accommodate the diversity within the Islamic movement is a priority for our organization. In order for success to be achieved in Syria, different groups need to put aside smaller differences and work toward the common goal that Muslims aspire to.