Turkish tank units have entered Syria as part of a military operation backed by Turkish and US-led coalition warplanes to clear the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group from the Syrian border town of Jarablus, according to Turkish state media.
Turkish special forces had crossed the border and entered Jarablus early on Wednesday, officials said.
“The operation, which began at around 4am local time (01:00 GMT), is aimed at clearing the Turkish borders of terrorist groups, helping to enhance border security and supporting the territorial integrity of Syria,” Anadolu Agency quoted Turkish officials as saying.
Turkish media said the operation involved artillery and rocket shelling as well as warplanes, before the ground forces, including heavy armoured vehicles, entered Syria towards noon.
So far, Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters backed by Turkey have captured four villages and total of 46 ISIL fighters have been killed in the operation, Dogan news agency said on Wednesday.
Turkish daily Hurriyet reported that Turkish tanks in Syrian territories blocked ISIL’s support routes and Turkish fighter jets along with coalition jets pounded ISIL vehicles headed from the al-Bab region to support ISIL fighters in the Jarablus area.
Meanwhile some 5,000 FSA fighters, including groups from the Sultan Murat Brigade, Sukur al-Jeber, Sham Front and Feylek al-Sham, were reportedly advancing toward central Jarablus.
PYD and ISIL targeted
The operation is targeting ISIL and Syrian Kurdish fighters in northern Syria to end attacks on Turkey’s border, President Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech in the capital Ankara on Wednesday.
“At 4:00 this morning, operations started in the north of Syria against terror groups which constantly threaten our country, like Daesh [the Arabic acronym for ISIL] and the PYD [the Syrian Kurdish group],” he said in a speech in Ankara.
Turkey had pledged on Monday to “completely cleanse” ISIL fighters from its border region after a suicide bomber suspected of links to the group killed 54 people at a Kurdish wedding in the southeastern city of Gaziantep.
Turkey is also concerned about the growing influence of Syrian Kurdish groups along its border, where they have captured large expanses of territory since the start of the Syrian war in 2011.
Turkey sees them as tied to the PKK, which has been waging an armed campaign mainly in the country’s southeast.
“It is hard to conduct this operation without the green light from Moscow, Tehran, Damascus and Washington,” Metin Gurcan, security analyst, told Al Jazeera from Istanbul.
“The open objective in this operation is that Turkey is trying to create an ISIL-free humanitarian zone by clearing Jarablus for possible flow of refugees,” he said.
“The covert objective is another one. The PYD’s recent advances alarmed Ankara. Turkey aims to deny the PYD’s objective of connecting cantons it controls and creating monolithic Kurdish entity.”
The military operation against ISIL comes as Syrian rebels, backed by Turkey, also say they are in the final stages of preparing an assault from Turkish territory on Jarablus, aiming to pre-empt a potential attempt by Syrian Kurdish forces of PYD to take it.
The PYD, a critical part of the US-backed campaign against ISIL, took near-complete control of Hasaka city on Tuesday.
The group already controls chunks of northern Syria where Kurdish groups have established de facto autonomy since the start of the Syria war – a development that has alarmed Turkey.
Turkey’s army and international coalition forces on Wednesday started an operation to drive Islamic State jihadists out of a key Syrian border town, a statement from the Turkish prime minister’s office said.
“The Turkish Armed Forces and the International Coalition Air Forces have launched a military operation aimed at clearing the district of Jarablus of the province of Aleppo from the terrorist organisation Daesh,” it added, using an Arabic acronym for IS group.
The state-run news agency Anadolu said the operation began at around 4 am local time (0100 GMT).
Turkish F-16 jets dropped bombs on IS targets in Jarablus — the first such assault since a November crisis with Russia sparked by the downing of one of Moscow’s warplanes by the Turkish air force, the private NTV television reported.
Security sources quoted by Turkish television said a small contingent of special forces travelled a few kilometres into Syria to secure the area before a possible operation.
Broadcaster CNN-Turk reported that Turkish artillery hit 63 targets in Syria.
Several mortar rounds from IS-held Jarablus hit the Turkish border town of Karkamis on Tuesday, prompting the army to pound the jihadist positions on Syrian soil with artillery strikes.
Official Source: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/216865
Senior diplomats from the West and the Middle East are meeting in the Austrian capital Vienna in an effort to salvage efforts to halt Syria’s civil war.
John Kerry, US secretary of state, and Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, will chair the meeting on Tuesday.
At the gathering, the 17-nation International Syria Support Group (ISSG) will renew its call for a national cessation of hostilities and immediate humanitarian access to besieged communities.
But the third plank of the plan – a call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the rebels to agree on a “framework for political transition” – may cause headaches.
US officials travelling with Kerry say the US still insists that Assad should go, with an August 1 deadline for settling on the framework under which he does so.
But Assad, buoyed by military support from Russia and Iran, has shown no sign he is prepared to leave and his forces are still battling for territory.
“There’s a sentiment here in Vienna that it may take some time to bridge the gap between the two key players,” said Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Vienna.
“We’ve been talking to members of the Syrian opposition, They say they have lost trust. If they don’t get clarity about Assad, they wont sign anything.”
UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva ended last month without any progress after the delegation of the opposition walked out, citing surging attacks by Assad’s forces and his Russian ally, as well as problems with humanitarian aid shipments.
In the past weeks, more than 300 people have been killed in regime air strikes in Aleppo province alone, while deadly fighting has also raged in other parts of Syria, including Idlib, Deir Az Zor and outskirts of Damascus.
A truce deal in place since February does not cover the armed groups such as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group and al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s Syria branch.
While the Syrian opposition demands that the president step down and pave the way for a political transition, the government delegation in Geneva has so far refused to talk about such a scenario.
Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iranian foreign minister, said his country supported the truce and a peace dialogue, but he warned that a silencing of arms might aid armed groups operating in Syria.
“We should not allow terrorists to use the cessation of hostilities for further terror operations,” he said.
Russia, Assad’s key foreign backer, supports the ISSG platform on paper but backs Syrian government forces on the ground.
Russia nevertheless endorsed the UN Security Council resolution that enshrined the ISSG peace plan in international law – and Lavrov says he supports it.
The talks come as fighter jets from the US-led coalition continue their attack on ISIL targets in Aleppo, while moderate rebels have launched their own offensive on the ground.
Meanwhile, a government air strike in the city left at least three civilians dead early on Tuesday, among them a mother and her young daughter, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Government forces continue to blockade several rebel-held areas around Damascus, stopping all food and medical aid in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.
And ISIL and the al-Nusra Front, not party to the ceasefire or peace talks, still hold vast swaths of the country and carry out attacks.
In Bdama, in Idlib province in the northwest, large swathes of which are held by al-Nusra, government air raids left eight civilians dead, including four women and three children.
Fighting has also broken out between al-Nusra Front and other factions, killing more than 300 fighters in recent weeks.
A senior Iranian military official on Wednesday made an outlandish accusation, claiming that Islamist rebel groups in Syria are “subgroups” of Israel – while failing to mention the fact that those same groups oppose Israel’s very existence.
“Had it not been for Israel’s intelligence backup for the terrorists, the terrorist groups in Syria would have surely been destroyed around two to three years ago,” said General Hassan Rastegarpanah, Security Adviser of the Iranian Armed Forces’ General Staff, reports Fars News Agency.
Making the claim of Israeli terror support ironic is the fact that Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.
Regarding “backup,” it is in fact Iran that has been intervening in Syria where it and its Lebanese terror proxy Hezbollah have been propping up Bashar al-Assad’s regime, not only by providing support but through active engagement in the fighting. Likewise Russia has been propping up Assad with an airstrike campaign.
But according to Rastegarpanah it is Israel that is meddling in Syrian affairs, despite the Jewish state’s open position of not taking sides and non-involvement aside from humanitarian aid and limited strikes to prevent the transfer of game-changing weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Going beyond accusing Israel of support, the Iranian general claimed that it is now common knowledge that the opposition forces clashing with Assad “are subgroups of Israel’s intelligence bodies,” in an apparent claim that the Syrian opposition is actually Israeli.
“The Zionists set up field hospitals for the terrorists and supply them with ammunition,” claimed the general, saying that the opposition forces “easily commute” between Syria and Israel.
There has been no indication of, nor any logical reasoning for, Israel arming the Islamist rebel groups that are as hostile to the Jewish state as they are to Assad. However, Israel has provided medical services to Syrians wounded in the conflict, even including Islamist rebels.
In February the Syrian opposition requested that Israel set up field hospitals as part of a plan for protected areas where Israel could treat the wounded in Syria, rather than airlifting them to the Jewish state.
On the other side, Iran’s allies Assad and Russia have been conducting ceaseless airstrikes including on internationally supported hospitals, thereby largely necessitating Israel’s humanitarian involvement in Syria.
Official Source: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/211827#.VyuO3oQrLx8
27 April 2016 – The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has completed a visit to the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria as part of a technical rapid assessment mission to take preliminary stock of destruction at the World Heritage site.
Headed by the Director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre, the mission, from 24 to 26 April inspected both Palmyra’s museum and archaeological site, taking stock of “considerable damage to the museum, where they found that most of the statues and sarcophagi that were too large to be removed for safekeeping were defaced, smashed, their heads severed and their fragments left lying on the ground,” UNESCO said in a press release today.
“Palmyra is a pillar of Syrian identity, and a source of dignity for all Syrians,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.
“UNESCO is determined to ensure the safeguarding of this and other sites with all partners as part of broader humanitarian and peace building operations,” she added.
The experts participating in the mission, who were escorted by UN security forces, identified emergency measures to consolidate and secure the building and the work that will be required to document, evacuate, safeguard and restore whatever is possible. Work to match and document the fragments of destroyed statues has already begun.
At the archaeological site, the experts took stock of the state of conservation of the grand colonnade and agora. They observed the destruction of the triumphal arch and Temple of Baal Shamin, which was “smashed to smithereens,” UNESCO said.
The members of the mission observed a minute of silence in memory of the victims murdered at the amphitheatre.
The experts had to examine damages to the Temple of Bel from a distance, as the edifice is still inaccessible and demining operations have not been completed. Likewise, the Mamluk Citadel, overlooking the ancient city, which also sustained serious damage, remains inaccessible.
The Director-General of Antiquities and Museums of Syria, Mamoun Abdoulkarim, accompanied UNESCO’s experts and heads of several departments in charge of World Heritage museums, architecture and sites.
“The participants paid tribute to the courage of all those who work to document and safeguard the heritage of Syria, especially the Directorate-General of Syria’s Antiquities and Museums for its dedication to protect this heritage which belongs to all Syrians and to the whole of humanity,” UNESCO stressed.
The mission considered that despite the destruction of several iconic edifices, the archaeological site of Palmyra “retains a large part of its integrity and authenticity.”
UNESCO said it will work with its partners to adopt emergency safeguarding measures.
A full report on the site will be presented to the World Heritage Committee at its 40th session, in Istanbul, Turkey, in July, with a view to determining recommendations for emergency safeguarding measures that need to be taken.
UNESCO plans to send an international mission of experts to examine in greater detail the state of conservation of heritage sites of Syria, including Palmyra.
An international meeting of experts on the preservation of Syria’s heritage sites will be held on 2 and 4 June in Berlin, Germany.
The mission completed yesterday followed on a decision taken by the World Heritage Committee during its 39th session in Bonn, Germany, this past July, and a decision unanimously adopted during the 199th session of UNESCO’s Executive Board concerning the Organization’s role in “safeguarding and preserving Palmyra and other Syrian World Heritage sites.”
The World Heritage site of Palmyra, an oasis in the Syrian Desert north-east of Damascus, contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world. From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Greco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences.
Official Source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=53796#.VyDk-fkrLx8
The UN Security Council has rejected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that the annexed Golan Heights in Syria would “for ever” remain under Israeli control.
The 15-member council agreed on Tuesday that the status of the Golan, which Israel seized from Syria in 1967, “remains unchanged”, Chinese Ambassador Liu Jieyi, who holds this month’s council presidency said.
Liu recalled a 1981 resolution which states that Israel’s “decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights was null and void and without any international legal effect.”
Liu said that the Council members “expressed deep concern” over Netanyahu’s remarks from earlier this month that “the Golan Heights will remain in the hands of Israel for ever.”
Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon issued a statement rejecting the council complaint.
“Holding a meeting on this topic completely ignores the reality in the Middle East,” he said. “While thousands of people are being massacred in Syria, and millions of citizens have become refugees, the Security Council has chosen to focus on Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle East.
“It’s unfortunate that interested parties are attempting to use the council for unfair criticism of Israel.”
Netanyahu’s April 17 declaration came on the occasion of the first Israeli cabinet session on the Golan since the area was seized from Syria in a 1967 war and annexed in 1981.
Israel’s annexation of the Golan has never been recognised by the international community.
Past US-backed Israeli-Syrian peace efforts were predicated on a return of the Golan, where some 23,000 Israelis now live alongside roughly the same number of Druse Arabs loyal to Damascus. Liu said the council supported a negotiated arrangement to settle the issue of the Golan.