Turkish officials put out warnings before Trump-Erdoğan meeting in mid-May
- Putin Stepping Away from Assad?
- 4 White Helmets Killed in Bombing in Southern Syria
- Video: Pro-Assad Bombing Continuing Throughout Northern Hama
- Médecins Sans Frontières Suspends Operations in East Ghouta Amid Rebel In-Fighting
- US Commerce Secretary: Our Missile Attack on Assad Airbase Was “After-Dinner Entertainment
The Turkish Government has openly declared its intention to deter the US from any cooperation with the Kurdish militia YPG in an offensive to take ISIS’s central position in Syria, the city of Raqqa.
Turkish officials put out the message through media on Sunday that the US is considering a start to the long-delayed operations, “immediately after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s first in-person meeting with President Donald Trump in mid-May”.
The Turks have tried for months to dissuade Washington from any involvement of the YPG, which leads the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces, from involvement in the Raqqa offensive. Ankara considers the Syrian Kurdistan Democratic Party (PYD) as part of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK.
The political disagreement has been part of the reason for the months-long pause in the drive towards Raqqa in northern Syria. However, the SDF has recently made substantial gains: it has taken part of the Tabqa Dam on the Euphrates River, and last weekend it moved into most of Tabqa town, 40 km (25 miles) west and upstream from Raqqa.
Meanwhile, the situation was complicated last week by Turkey’s first airstrikes against YPG positions, accompanied by attacks on the PKK in northern Iraq. Up to 30 YPG fighters were killed in northeastern Syria, and the bombing was followed by cross-border fire from both sides and clashes in the Syrian village of Darbasiyah near the border.
The US quickly showed support for the YPG as “our partners”. An American commander was photographed with YPG counterparts touring the bombed site, and US forces and armored vehicles were deployed along the border near Darbasiyah.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Sunday that Ankara is “seriously saddened” to see the US deployment and warned that the YPG “needs to be stopped right now”. If necessary, he said, Turkey will “take matters into its own hands”.
Primed by Erdoğan’s officials, the daily Hurriyet wrote on Tuesday: “Despite the presence of U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who has been appreciated by Ankara for his acknowledgement on Turkey’s sensitivities over the PKK, the Pentagon has not changed its original plans for the liberation of Raqqa from the jihadists.”
The newspaper asserted that the State Department has tabled various proposals to address the issue, including a long-term plan for a siege of Raqqa rather than an assault with the YPG; a restructuring of the SDF with Arab forces taking command; and a “dialogue for the establishment a new structure in which all Syrian Kurds and other ethnic groups are equally represented” and the PYD’s dominance is “broken”.
Kurds Celebrate US Deployment
Meanwhile, in Qamishli, one of the mainly-Kurdish cities in northeast Syria, people celebrated as a US armored column passed through on their way towards the border. A citizen journalist, Abu Zeid, said:
People were very happy, I’ll tell you — it was like a wedding was going on. People were clapping and waving at them, and the soldiers were throwing up victory signs. There were people getting out of their cars and saluting them.
In the town of Amouda, citizen journalist Masoum Muhammed said of the appearance of the armored vehicles:
When this happened, people relaxed. They now feel that Turkey can’t do anything more. In other words, the presence of the American military inside the cities is a message to the people that they can rest easy, and, of course, a message to Turkey.
TOP PHOTO: US armored vehicles deploy near the vilalge of Darbasiyah along the Syrian-Turkish border
Putin Stepping Away from Assad?
Russian President Vladimir Putin has given the first public hint that he may not be committed to the long-term stay of Bashar al-Assad in office.
Speaking at a joint news conference after a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Putin restated the standard Russian line that the “Syrian people” should determine the future, but he then introduced a new clause, “Obviously this people is split.”
The President continued, “We see big problems in Syrian society and our task is to create conditions for consolidation, for cessation of hostilities, for cessation of mutual destruction, for political dialogue of all conflicting forces.”
Russian officials have privately said that they are not wedded to Assad in power, as long as the Syrian state is favorable to Moscow’s interests, but the Kremlin has always avoided this explanation in public.
Putin restated Russia’s supposed commmitment to a ceasefire — in the face of its escalation in bombing of opposition areas — and said, “We are confident that a solution to the Syrian problem can be found only through United Nations brokered peace talks.”
He also maintained Moscow’s double line on the April 4 chemical attack by the Assad regime on Khan Sheikhoun in northern Syria. Although Russia vetoed a Security Council mandate for the Assad regime to cooperate with an international investigation, he declared:
We resolutely condemn any use of chemical weapons
Naturally, those responsible for the death of Syrians must be found and punished. But it should be done only after a thorough and unbiased investigation.
4 White Helmets Killed in Bombing in Southern Syria
Four White Helmets volunteers, three of whom were medics, were killed on Tuesday in Dara’a Province in southern Syria when their ambulance was bombed.
The deaths follow those of eight rescuers on Saturday in airstrikes on a White Helmets center in northern Hama Province.
Video: Pro-Assad Bombing Continues Throughout Northern Hama
Pro-Assad bombing is continuing throughout northern Hama Province, which has been pounded for weeks with incendiary, thermobaric, and chemical munitions.
Footage of dozens of missiles on Kafrzita, where eight White Helmets volunteers were killed over the weekend:
— إعلام قوى الثورة (@RFS_mediaoffice) May 2, 2017
Assad helicopters have dropped barrel bombs & thermobaric rockets on Alatamenah, Hama, killing 6 people from a single family. pic.twitter.com/6UoBQncTmL
— هادي العبدالله Hadi (@HadiAlabdallah) May 2, 2017
Médecins Sans Frontières Suspends Operations in East Ghouta Amid Rebel In-Fighting
Médecins Sans Frontières has suspended its support for medical facilities in East Ghouta near Damascus, amid in-fighting between rebel factions.
MSF said its facilities were raided by “armed groups” on Saturday and Sunday. The men sought out wounded patients and seized the ambulance of the Hazzeh hospital, while the Aftares clinic was hit by bullets amid fighting. Medics were trapped and unable to collect wounded, even those lying within sight of the hospital, or to evacuate to a safer area.
Clashes between the factions Jaish al-Islam and Failaq al-Rahman were renewed last Friday, with scores of fighters reportedly killed. Failaq al-Rahman was supported by elements of the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, which includes the jihadists of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.
MSF set out five demands for the armed groups, including no weapons inside medical facilities; no direct action against medical facilities or the transport of patients; no use of medical areas for military purposes; and no obstruction of evacuation of patients and medics.
Meanwhile, pro-Assad strikes are targeting medical facilities in East Ghouta as well as in northwest Syria.
The latest hospital struck is in Erbin, 4 km (2.5 miles) east of Damascus. It was hit by a single missile that ripped through four stories and killed two people as it detonated in the basement, destroying operating and recovery rooms.
US Commerce Secretary: Our Missile Attack on Assad Airbase Was “After-Dinner Entertainment”
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has made light of the first US missile strikes on an Assad regime position, saying they were after-dinner entertainment”.
Ross told an audience of the April 7 launch of 59 Tomahawks on a regime airbase from which a deadly chemical attack was carried out three days earlier. They laughed as he described the atmosphere at Donald Trump’s resort in Florida, where Chinese President Xi Jinping was visiting:
The thing was, it didn’t cost the president anything to have that entertainment.
Trump gave his own version of the episode to Fox Business last month, “I was sitting at the table, we had finished dinner. We’re now having dessert — and we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen — and President Xi was enjoying it.”