Sunday, January 21, 2018

Abbas To Ask EU To Recognize Palestinian State, Turkish Tanks Roll Into Syria To Fight Kurdish Militia

Abbas to ask European Union to recognize Palestinian state

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will ask the European Union to officially recognize the state of Palestine when he meets foreign ministers from the bloc on Monday, a senior official said Sunday.
Abbas is scheduled to meet with EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini and the foreign ministers of the Union’s 28 countries on the sidelines of their monthly meeting. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a similar meeting last month.

The issue of recognition of a Palestinian state is expected to be at the top of the agenda for Monday’s talks.
Palestinian foreign minister Riad al-Malki said Sunday that Abbas will tell the EU it should take the step of recognizing Palestine “as a way to respond” to US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.
Abbas will also “reiterate his commitment to the peace process” in the Middle East, Malki said in an interview with AFP in Brussels. “He’s going to say I’m not going to withdraw from the peace process, I will stay committed.”
A week ago Abbas denounced Trump’s efforts to resolve the long-running conflict as the “slap of the century” and caused alarm by saying Israel had sunk the so-called Oslo accords that underpin the stalled peace process.
After Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December, and said that he plans to move the US Embassy to the city from Tel Aviv, the Palestinian leadership declared Washington could no longer fulfill the historic and central role in the peace process it has held for over two decades.

Trump said his declaration reflected reality on the ground, and was not intended to prejudge any future arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians regarding the disputed city, though he later said it had taken Jerusalem off the table. Welcomed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and leaders across most of the Israeli political spectrum, the move caused an uproar throughout the Muslim world and was panned by the United Nations, the European Union, and many European countries.

Turkish troops and tanks entered Syria on Sunday in the second day of an offensive against Kurdish militia, as rockets hit border towns in apparent retaliation.
Turkey on Saturday launched operation “Olive Branch” seeking to oust from the Afrin region of northern Syria the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) which Ankara considers a terror group.
But the campaign risks further increasing tensions with Turkey’s NATO ally Washington, which has supported the YPG in the fight against Islamic State jihadists and warned Ankara about distracting the focus from that fight.
In its first reaction to the offensive, the US State Department urged Turkey Sunday “to exercise restraint and ensure that its military operations remain limited in scope and duration and scrupulous to avoid civilian casualties.”
US Defense Secretary James Mattis said Ankara had given Washington advanced warning of their operation, adding Turkey’s security concerns were “legitimate.”

Thirty-two Turkish planes destroyed a total of 45 targets including ammunition dumps and refuges used by the YPG on the second day of the operation, the Turkish army said.

Turkish troops were advancing alongside forces from the Ankara-backed rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) and were already five kilometers (three miles) inside Syria, state media said. 
Turkish tanks could be seen lined up at the border waiting to cross into Syrian territory.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in televised comments several villages had already been taken in the advance. But a YPG spokesman claimed Turkish forces seeking to enter Afrin had been “blocked” and that it had hit two Turkish tanks.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a total of 18 civilians had been killed so far in the two-day operation, including eight members of the same family sheltering in a building that was flattened by an airstrike.
The YPG confirmed the deaths, sending out pictures of Kurdish Red Crescent rescuers retrieving bloodied bodies from a collapsed concrete structure.
Ankara, however, denied any civilian casualties, with Cavusoglu accusing the YPG of sending out “nonsense propaganda and baseless lies.”
In his first comments on the offensive since it began, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed hope the “operation will be finished in a very short time” and vowed “we will not take a step back.”
Following calls from some Turkish pro-Kurdish politicians for people to take to the streets, he warned that anyone protesting in Turkey against the operation would pay “a heavy price.” Police stopped demonstrations against the campaign taking place in the mainly Kurdish southeastern city of Diyarbakir and in Istanbul, making arrests.
Turkey accuses the YPG of being the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has waged a rebellion in Turkey for more than three decades and is regarded as a terror group by Ankara and the EU and US.

Afrin is an enclave of YPG control, cut off from the longer strip of northern Syria that the group controls to the east, extending to the Iraqi border which has a US military presence.

The new Turkish incursion has alarmed many countries, with the UN Security Council expected to discuss the worsening humanitarian crisis in Syria later Monday at France’s request.
French Defence Minister Florence Parly said the fighting “must stop” as it could deter YPG fighters helping the international coalition against IS.
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France was calling the UN Security Council meeting as it was deeply worried by the “brutal degradation of the situation” in flashpoints like Afrin.

The Turkish foreign ministry said it had informed the Syrian regime — through its Istanbul consulate — of the operation despite being at odds with Damascus throughout the civil war.
But the Syrian foreign ministry strongly denied this and President Bashar Assad slammed the offensive as “support for terrorism.”

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