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
Giorgos Moutafis, 38, was denied entry to Turkey after landing in Istanbul on Saturday and was sent back to Athens. He was kicked out of the country less than an hour after German Chancellor Angela Merkel had left, having visited a refugee camp in Gaziantep, the newspaper pointed out. He intended to go to Libya from Turkey.
“I was told at the passport control that my name was on a blacklist and that I’m not allowed to enter Turkey. Then my passport was taken from me until the early morning. I had to spend the night in a room in the airport. The reasons why I’m on this list were not explained to me,” Moutafis said.
He added that he entered Turkey six months ago with no problems, and that he cannot explain why he could have been banned since then.
Moutafis is an internationally-acclaimed journalist and filmmaker, who has covered stories for outlets such as Newsweek, TIME, the New Yorker, Der Spiegel, the Guardian, Al Jazeera, CBS, CNN and the BBC, among others. He recieved the 2014 Press Freedom Award from Reporters Without Borders.
The focus of his work is on the perils of asylum seekers travelling to Europe from the Middle East, but he also reported on the battle for the Kurdish city of Kobani in Syria, which may explain the Turkish authorities’ attitude.
When asked for comments by RT, Bild said it would not provide any.
In a separate incident on Monday, American journalist David Lepeska was barred from entering Turkey and put on a flight from Istanbul to Chicago. The journalist, who has written for Foreign Affairs and Al Jazeera America, was given no explanation for the expulsion, he told AP.
Was just hurried onto a flight to Chicago after being denied entry at Istanbul Ataturk. This is not the last I will see of you, Turkey. My love for you is deep, thanks mainly to the steady stream of lovely lively people I met here. Be well, Istanbul.
A photo posted by dlepeska (@dlepeska) on Apr 25, 2016 at 4:22am PDT
Last week, Turkey barred Volker Schwenck, a journalist working for the TV channel ARD, from entering the country. Ankara cited “security reasons.” Schwenck, who heads the channel’s Cairo bureau, intended to travel to Gaziantep to cover Merkel’s visit.
Turkey’s crackdown on the media is a hot topic in Germany after Merkel failed to oppose the prosecution of a comedian who recited a crude poem criticizing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Ankara had complained that the poem was insulting.
Some 2,000 libel cases have been filed in Turkey against people accused of insulting the president.
Official Source: https://www.rt.com/news/340826-bild-journalist-barred-turkey/
Israelis are being warned to leave Turkey “immediately”, according to a new warning issued Friday evening by the Counter-Terrorism Bureau.
The warning calls on Israelis staying in Turkey to leave the country immediately, due to concrete information about the intention by terrorists to carry out an attack against Israelis.
This is the third travel warning to Turkey issued by the Counter-Terrorism Bureau within that last two weeks, the last one being issued on March 28.
Friday’s advisory warns of “immediate risks” for attacks in Turkey and stresses that the threat “is applicable to all tourist attractions in the country.”
“The Bureau requests that Israeli citizens adhere to the warning and avoid going to Turkey,” it said. “At the same time Israeli tourists currently staying in Turkey are requested to refrain from arriving at crowded tourist sites, follow the instructions of local security officials and the media and get out of there as soon as possible.”
The travel warnings to Turkey came after an ISIS suicide bomber tracked Israeli tourists in Istanbul and detonated an explosive among them, murdering three Israelis as well as an Iranian, and wounding 39 others including 11 Israelis.
As well, there were reports recently that terrorists from ISIS were planning an “imminent attack” against Jewish kindergartens and schools and youth centers in Turkey.
Official Source: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/210571#.VwgCsPkrLx8
WASHINGTON (AP) — The State Department and Pentagon ordered the families of U.S. diplomats and military personnel Tuesday to leave posts in southern Turkey due to “increased threats from terrorist groups” in the country.
The two agencies said dependents of American staffers at the U.S. consulate in Adana, the Incirlik air base and two other locations must leave. The so-called “ordered departure” notice means the relocation costs will be covered by the government.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said no specific threat triggered the order, but said it was done “out of an abundance of caution” for the safety of the families in that region. He said he was not aware of a deadline for the families to leave, but said “this will move very quickly.”
In a statement, the military’s European Command said the step “allows for the deliberate, safe return of family members from these areas due to continued security concerns in the region.”
The orders cover the Adana consulate, U.S. military dependents in Incirlik, Ismir and Mugla as well as family of U.S. government civilians at Ismir and Mugla. The State Department also restricted official travel to that which it considers “mission critical.” Cook said that the order does not affect about 100 family members who are based in Istanbul and Ankara.
The move comes amid heightened security concerns throughout Turkey due to the ongoing fight against Islamic State militants in neighboring Syria and Iraq and was accompanied by an updated travel warning advising U.S. citizens of an increased threat of attacks. It also comes as Turkey’s president is set to arrive in Washington to attend President Barack Obama’s nuclear security summit.
“We understand this is disruptive to our military families, but we must keep them safe and ensure the combat effectiveness of our forces to support our strong ally Turkey in the fight against terrorism,” the European Command statement said.
Incirlik is a critical base in the fight by the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group, and includes strike aircraft, drones and refueling planes.
Turkey’s decision last year to allow the coalition to conduct airstrikes with aircraft based at Incirlik shortened the time and distance required to conduct airstrikes in Syria and Iraq, compared with strikes flown from bases in the Persian Gulf area. And it increased the number of U.S. personnel at the base.
NATO’s Allied Land Command is based at Ismir and there is a Turkish base at Mugla where some U.S. military personnel go for training and other missions.
It was not immediately clear how many family members would be affected in total. The Pentagon said the order would affect about 680 military family members and roughly 270 pets. The State Department and Pentagon had begun a voluntary drawdown of staff at the two posts last September after Turkey announced it would take a greater role in the fight against Islamic State militants.
At the time, military officials said they had recommended the voluntary departure from Incirlik because of specific calls by militants for lone wolf attacks against the air base.
On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Turkish Foreign Mevlut Cavusoglu. State Department spokesman John Kirby said the two discussed measures to secure the Turkey-Syria border and disrupt extremist networks.
According to a U.S. official, the decision to order families to leave stemmed from the ongoing assessment of security threats in Turkey. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, so spoke on condition of anonymity.
The decision comes a day after Israel issued a new travel advisory for Turkey, warning its citizens to leave the country as soon as possible and to avoid any traveling there.
President Erdogan had invited Obama to join him at the inauguration of a Turkish-funded mosque in Maryland, but the proposal has been turned down, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Instead, President Erdogan is expected to hold a face-to-face meeting with US Vice President Joe Biden, a White House official told the WSJ.
The official said that contact between the American and Turkish presidents is regular, since they had a personal meeting in November 2015 on the fringes of the G20 summit in Turkey, and held a phone conversation in February.
“The president has been in such regular contact with few other world leaders,” the senior administration official told the media. “When it comes to the [Nuclear Security Summit], there is not a robust [bilateral] schedule, so it’s not as if Erdogan is being excluded.”
The press service of the Turkish president said it has no information about a meeting between the two presidents being canceled, RIA Novosti reports. Reportedly, Turkish officials had been preparing a Washington get-together of the two leaders for months.
The Nuclear Security Summit, or NSS 2016, kicks off on March 31. President Erdogan will arrive in the US two days before that, and is planning to leave on April 2.
Relations between Obama and Erdogan have certainly seen better times, with Obama previously naming Erdogan among his closest allies. Back in May 2013, when then-Prime Minister Erdogan and his family paid an official visit to the US, he was most welcome, with President Obama inviting him for dinner.
That was at a time when Erdogan had announced historic peace talks with Kurdish fighters and praised the further development of the economic ties between Turkey and the US.
Yet already in 2013, relations between Ankara and Washington witnessed discord, first because of a violent police crackdown against protesters in Istanbul’s Gezi Park, allegedly staged by supporters of dissident Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who had found refuge in the US. The actions of the Turkish police drew criticism from the White House.
Then in December 2013 came the arrests of dozens of people in a political-corruption probe that exposed links to Erdogan’s family and closest associates.
Most recently, Turkey’s relations with key allies were strained by its military operation in the southeast launched against Kurdish armed militias, which then also spread to Kurds’ positions in neighboring Syria and Iraq.
The crackdown against internal critics of the Erdogan government has also put the existence of basic freedom of speech and press in Turkey under question.
Back in January, when Vice President Joe Biden visited Istanbul, he met with Turkish journalists critical of President Erdogan – a move that caused consternation among the Turkish leader and his allies.
Last week a senior aide to President Erdogan said Turkey needs no “external advice” from Washington when it comes to internal politics. “This is the behavior of a big brother giving lessons. We need friendship,” he stressed.
For the US, Turkey remains a key ally in fighting jihadists in Syria and Iraq, with the US Air Force using Turkish military airfields for operations against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).
Official Source: https://www.rt.com/usa/337431-obama-denies-erdogan-meeting/
In accordance with the National Security Council Counter-Terrorism Bureau (NSCCTB)’s security assessment, Israel is increasing its security warning for citizens traveling to Turkey.
The warning was at level 3 (basic concrete threat) and will now be set at level 2 (high concrete threat).
In practical terms, this means that the Counterterrorism Office advises the Israeli public to avoid visiting the country and suggests that citizens currently in Turkey leave as soon as possible.
A statement noted that last Saturday’s deadly attack in central Istanbul, “underscores the threat by ISIS against tourist targets throughout Turkey and proves high capabilities of carrying out further attacks. Terrorist infrastructures in Turkey continue to advance additional attacks against tourist targets – including Israeli tourists – throughout the country.”
The official updated warning explains: “In the wake of an NSCCTB assessment of the situation, it has been decided to upgrade the existing travel warning vis-à-vis Turkey from a basic concrete threat to a high concrete threat, and to reiterate our recommendation to the public to avoid visiting the country and – for Israelis currently in Turkey – to leave as soon as possible.”
Official Source: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/209988#.VvlwNOIrLx8
(ANTIMEDIA) United Kingdom — The death toll from Turkey’s second suicide bombing in a month continues to rise, with at least 37 people now dead as a result of the attack in the Kizilay district of Ankara on Sunday evening. A further 125 remain in hospital — some in a serious condition — after the blast from a bomb-laden car, less than a month after dozens of military personnel and civilians were killed in the Turkish capital.
Turkish security officials have since claimed that a man and woman belonging to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) — which has waged a decades-long battle for Kurdish autonomy in the region— are to blame for the attack, although there has been no claim of responsibility. Critics have been quick to condemn the premature accusation as Turkey faces multiple security threats, including from Islamic State militants.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, reports emerged that a Turkish court had ordered social media accounts to be blocked to prevent people from sharing photos.
In the global response to the third bombing in the capital since October 2015, people rushed to update their Facebook profile pictures and overlay their mugshots with a Turkish flag. The hashtags #PrayForAnkara and #JeSuisAnkara began trending immediately in solidarity across social media.
Actually, that is not true. I made it up. However, the world was so mute on the devastating attack that a simple Facebook status calling for empathy with the victims received over 100,000 shares, presumably from those frustrated with the apparent double standard that often plagues reactions to tragic incidents around the world. The post by James Taylor, who lives in Ankara, urged readers to imagine the attack had happened where they live.
“Can you imagine being there? Can you imagine the place you walk past every day, the bus stops you use, the roads you cross being obliterated?” he asked.
“Contrary to what many people think, Turkey is not the Middle East. Ankara is not a war zone, it is a normal modern bustling city, just like any other European capital, and Kizilay is the absolute heart, the centre,” he added.
“It is very easy to look at terror attacks that happen in London, in New York, in Paris and feel pain and sadness for those victims, so why is it not the same for Ankara? Is it because you just don’t realise that Ankara is no different from any of these cities? Is it because you think that Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country, like Syria, like Iraq, like countries that are in a state of civil war, so therefore it must be the same and because you don’t care about those ones, then why should you care about Turkey? If you don’t believe that these attacks in Ankara affect you, or you can’t feel the same pain you felt during the Paris or London attacks, then maybe you should stop to think why, why is it that you feel like that.”
Taylor concludes with: “You were Charlie, you were Paris. Will you be Ankara?”
Others took to Twitter to voice their dismay at the global double standards.
No claim of responsibility yet for deadly attack in capital as jets strike Kurdish group’s bases in Qandil mountains
Turkey’s air force has hit Kurdish targets in northern Iraq after a car bombing struck the Turkish capital, Ankara, killing at least 37 people and wounding more than 70 others.
The state-run Anadolu news agency said nine F-16s and two F-4 jets on Monday raided 18 positions of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), including the Qandil mountains where the group’s leadership is based.
The targets struck consisted of ammunition depots, bunkers and shelters.
Police also carried out raids in the southern city of Adana, detaining suspected PKK members, Anadolu reported.
The private Dogan news agency said at least 36 suspects were taken into custody.
Fifteen suspected Kurdish fighters were also detained in Istanbul, Anadolu said.
Security officials told Reuters news agency on Monday that a female member of PKK was one of two suspeced perpetrators.
A police source said her severed hand had been found 300 metres from the blast site.
The second suspected bomber was a male Turkish citizen with links to PKK, Reuters cited a Turkish security official as saying.
There has not been any claim of responsibility for the bombing.
Sunday’s attack was the second devastating blast to rock Ankara in three weeks.
Witnesses said the blast set vehicles on fire and heavily damaged several buses.
The explosion, which could be heard several miles away, also sent burning debris showering down over an area a few hundred metres from the justice and interior ministries, a top courthouse, and the former office of the prime minister.
“These attacks, which threaten our country’s integrity and our nation’s unity and solidarity, do not weaken our resolve in fighting terrorism but bolster our determination,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement.
Local broadcasters reported that an Ankara court ordered a ban on access to Facebook, Twitter and other sites in Turkey after images from the car bombing were shared on social media.
Sunday’s attack comes just three weeks after a suicide car bombing in Ankaratargeted buses carrying military personnel, killing 29 people.
“We know how and when we will respond,” Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s prime minister, told Al Jazeera in an interview, referring to the February attack.
“Definitely, those who made this attack against our people will pay the price. But how and when, we will decide. And when it happens, everybody will see that Turkey can respond [to] any challenges and any attack against it.”
A Kurdish armed group, the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK), which is an offshoot of the outlawed PKK, claimed responsibility for that attack. TAK says it split from the PKK.Turkey has been fighting on multiple fronts. As part of a US-led coalition, it is battling the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), which has seized territory in neighbouring Syria and Iraq.
It is also battling the outlawed PKK in its southeast, where a two-and-a-half-year ceasefire collapsed last July, prompting the worst violence since the 1990s.
Turkey sees the unrest in its largely Kurdish southeast as deeply linked to events in northern Syria, where the Kurdish YPG militia had been seizing territory as it fights both ISIL and rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad.
Turkey fears those gains will stir separatist ambitions among its own Kurds and has long argued that the YPG and PKK have close ideological and operational ties.
In its armed campaign in Turkey, the PKK has historically struck directly at the security forces and says it does not target civilians.
ISIL has carried out at least four bomb attacks on Turkey since June 2015, including a suicide bombing which killed 10 German tourists in central Istanbul in January.