Russia and the Middle East
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Turkey urges US to withdraw from Manbij. The UAE to criticize Turkish invasion

28.01.2018
Azaz: Turkey on Saturday urged the United States to withdraw personnel from a Kurdish-held town in northern Syria. As Turkeys offensive in Syria entered its second week with new air strikes and artillery, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said it was necessary for them (US) to immediately withdraw from Manbij, where Washington has a military presence.

Turkey launched operation Olive Branch on Jan.20 against the Syrian Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG) militia in its western enclave of Afrin, supporting Syrian opposition fighters with ground troops and air strikes. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to expand the offensive against the YPG to Manbij, east of Afrin.

Relations between Nato allies Ankara and Washington have worsened since Turkey launched an operation, with the United States urging restraint and fearing an impact on the fight against the Daesh extremist group. Ankara says the YPG is a terrorist offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which is proscribed as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies. God willing we will crush them (terror groups) like a steam roller, Erdogan said on Saturday during a speech in Istanbul.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim hit out at critics, explaining the operation was not an option but a necessity. Earlier this month, the US-led coalition fighting Daesh said it was working to create a 30,000-strong border security force in northern Syria. The US must cut its ties with a terror organisation. It must take back the weapons it has given, Cavusoglu said, adding Turkey now wanted to see concrete steps taken.

There have been expressions of concern over the offensive from other Western allies including the European Union. German police on Saturday ordered the dispersal of a protest against the offensive attended by over 15,000 in Cologne because of the presence of PKK symbols, banned in Germany.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group told AFP the fighting was concentrated in the northwest part of the Afrin region. Turkish forces and allied Syrian rebels had taken a village and were making progress, albeit slowly because of bad weather, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said. An AFP correspondent in the Syrian town of Azaz held by pro-Ankara fighters, east of Afrin, could hear sporadic artillery fire.

The Turkish military said at least 394 terrorist organisation members were neutralised in the operation. It was not possible to independently verify the toll. The Observatory said 111 Ankara-backed rebels and Kurdish fighters have been killed between both sides since last Saturday. It said 38 civilians have been killed, mainly as a result of Turkish shelling, but Ankara strongly rejects such claims.

Health workers in Afrin told AFP they feared the offensive would lead to a humanitarian tragedy. Medication and humanitarian aid necessary to help civilians will soon run out, said Khalil Sabri Ahmed, head of the main hospital in Afrin. The UN childrens agency Unicef said at least 11 children were killed since the operation began.

Turkeys AFAD emergencies agency head Mehmet Gulluoglu said they were making plans for a camp to be established in Azaz in the face of a possible refugee influx from Afrin. Meanwhile, bombardment of the rebel-held eastern Ghouta area of Syria continued early on Saturday, a war monitor said, after an insurgent spokesman said late on Friday that Russia had promised to try to impose a ceasefire.

No ceasefire was formally announced by Russia or the Syrian government, whose army has besieged the enclave outside Damascus for years and has stepped up its bombardment there in recent months. Five bombardments targeted eastern Ghouta overnight, including with rocket strikes and artillery shells said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Russia is the main external supporter of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad in his war against rebels seeking to oust him. A ninth round of UN-sponsored peace talks ended in Vienna on Friday without result.

The United Arab Emirates and Egypt rather than Saudi Arabia have taken the lead in criticizing Turkeys incursion into Syria designed to remove US-backed Kurds from the countries border and create a 30-kilometre deep buffer zone. UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said the incursion by a non-Arab state signalled that Arab states would be marginalized if they failed to develop a national security strategy.

The Gulf Today (UAE)
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