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Kurds mobilize in Syria as Turkey poised for imminent attack

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Kurds mobilize in Syria as Turkey poised for imminent attack

BEIRUT (AP) — Warning of a “humanitarian catastrophe,” Syrian Kurdish forces who are allied with the United States issued a “general mobilization” call on Wednesday in northeastern Syria, along the border with Turkey, as Ankara threatened an imminent invasion of the area.

The Turkish operation would ignite new fighting in the war-ravaged country’s eight-year-old war, potentially displacing hundreds of thousands of people.

Turkey has long threatened an attack on the Kurdish fighters in Syria whom Ankara considers terrorists allied with a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey. A Syrian war monitoring group, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported Wednesday that people were fleeing the border town of Tal Abyad.

AP journalists on the Turkish side of the border overlooking Tal Abyad saw Turkish forces crossing into Syria in military vehicles Wednesday, though there was no official statement from either side that the offensive had begun.

Expectations of a Turkish invasion rose after President Donald Trump on Sunday abruptly announced that American troops would step aside ahead of the Turkish push — a shift in U.S. policy that essentially abandoned the Syrian Kurds, longtime U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria.

But Trump also threatened to “totally destroy and obliterate” Turkey’s economy if the Turkish push into Syria went too far.

Turkey has been massing troops for days along its border with Syria and vowed it would go ahead with the military operation and not bow to the U.S. threat over its plans against the Kurds.

A senior Turkish official said Wednesday that Turkey’s troops would “shortly” cross into Syria, together with allied Syrian rebel forces to battle the Kurdish fighters and also the Islamic State group.

Trump later cast his decision to pull back U.S. troops from parts of northeast Syria as fulfilling a campaign promise to withdraw from the “endless war” in the Middle East. Republican critics and others said he was sacrificing a U.S. ally, the Syrian Kurdish forces, and undermining American credibility.

Fahrettin Altun, the Turkish presidency’s communications director, called on the international community in a Washington Post op-ed published Wednesday “to rally” behind Ankara, which he said would also take over the fight against the Islamic State group.

Turkey aimed to “neutralize” Syrian Kurdish militants in northeast Syria and to “liberate the local population from the yoke of the armed thugs,” Altun wrote.

Turkey’s defense Hulusi Akar told state-run Anadolu Agency that Turkish preparations for the offensive were continuing.

In its call for mobilization, the local civilian Kurdish authority known as the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, also urged the international community to live up to its responsibilities as “a humanitarian catastrophe might befall our people” in the region.

“We call upon our people, of all ethnic groups, to move toward areas close to the border with Turkey to carry out acts of resistance during this sensitive historical time,” it said. The statement said the mobilization would last for three days.

The Kurds also said that they want the U.S.-led coalition to set up a no-fly zone in northeast Syria to protect the civilian population from Turkish airstrikes.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused Washington of playing “very dangerous games” with the Syrian Kurds saying that the U.S. first propped up the Syrian Kurdish “quasi state” in northeastern Syria and is now withdrawing its support.

“Such reckless attitude to this highly sensitive subject can set fire to the entire region, and we have to avoid it at any cost,” he said during a visit to Kazakhstan. Russian news said Moscow has communicated that position Washington.

Earlier on Wednesday, IS militants targeted a post of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, which was once the de facto IS capital at the height of the militants’ power in the region.

The Kurdish-led SDF, which is holding thousands of IS fighters in several detention facilities in northeastern Syria, has warned that a Turkish incursion might lead to the resurgence of the extremists. The U.S. allied Kurdish-led force captured the last IS area controlled by the militants in eastern Syria in March.

In Wednesday’s attack, IS launched three suicide bombings against Kurdish positions in Raqqa. There was no immediate word on casualties. Raqqa is being Silently Slaughtered, an activist collective that covers news in the northern city, reported an exchange of fire and a blast.

The Observatory said the Raqqa attack involved two IS fighters who engaged in a shootout before blowing themselves up.

Also Wednesday, Iranian state television reported a surprise military drill with special operations forces near the country’s border with Turkey, in Iran’s Western Azerbaijan province. The TV didn’t mention the expected Turkish offensive into Syria or elaborate on the reasons for the drill.

The head of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, said he is alarmed at Turkey’s planned military offensive, adding in a statement that such an invasion would be a “blatant violation of Syria’s sovereignty and threatens Syria’s integrity.”

Aboul Gheit said the planned incursion also threatens to inflame further conflicts in eastern and northern Syria, and “could allow for the revival” of the Islamic State group.

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Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey; Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.

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Foreign Affairs

‘Lady Liberty’ erected above Hong Kong

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Lady Liberty erected above Hong Kong

Several dozen Hong Kong protesters scaled a peak overlooking the city to erect a 3-meter statue they’re saying is their version of “Lady Liberty.” According to Singapore-based news outlet The Straits Times, it overlooks the city to inspire protesters against the increasingly authoritarian government in the city, which is backed by Beijing.

Clashes between protesters and police grew more aggressive over the weekend as the semi-autonomous island off the China coast continues to experience strife between the people and the government. Nearly 2500 protesters have been arrested so far with around 1000 of them being under the age of 18.

This is the latest symbolic call in a long string that is intended to mimic and draw attention from Americans who have the types of freedoms they crave. But so far there has been no significant movement by the government as Beijing grows impatient.

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Foreign Affairs

Russia brokers deal for Kurdish forces, Syria to partner against Turkey

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Russia brokers deal for Kurdish forces Syria to partner against Turkey

Syria as a whole will be Bashar Al-Assad’s once again. That is, at least, what the Syrian President and the Russians are hoping for after Moscow brokered a deal between Assad’s regime and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in eastern Syria.

In the wake of a U.S. withdrawal from the border with Turkey and the subsequent invasion by Turkey 20 miles into Syrian territory, Assad and his long-time rivals are willing to work together against their mutual enemy. It isn’t just Turkey but also their proxies in the Free Syrian Army. The group, which was once supported by the Obama administration to fight Assad’s government, has been the tip of Turkey’s spear so far during the brief conflict with the SDF.

Russia, who has had an ongoing relationship with Assad and once supported the SDF, has renewed those ties and brought the two foes together to fight for a common cause. If it works, the Kurds will likely maintain some autonomy while adhering to a united Syria under Assad. If it fails, Turkey will take control of a stretch of land 20 miles deep and 300 miles wide along the border where they intend to relocate two million refugees.

This isn’t just about relocation, though. The Turkish government believes the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which comprises the most powerful militia group within the SDF, is supplying their allies in the Kurdisran Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey and America regard as a terrorist organization.

With Russia inserting itself into the mix, their relationship with Turkey will likely strain even more. But their greater goal of a united Syria under the control of Bashar Al-Assad is worth making Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan upset.

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Economy

President Trump working with Congress to sanction Turkey

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President Trump working with Congress to sanction Turkey

In less than a week, Turkey has managed to draw the ire of most of the world, including most on Capitol Hill, as they move to eradicate Kurds and Christians in eastern Syria. Their invasion, coordinated with attacks by their Syrian al Qaeda proxies, have already caused turmoil, killed hundreds, and displaced hundreds of thousands.

Now, President Trump appears ready to follow through on his threat to “cripple Turkey’s economy” through sanctions.

The President has been criticized by many in both political parties following the White House announcement that we are withdrawing troops from the border region. What followed was such a quick response in the form of an all out Turkish invasion that it’s clear they’ve been planning this for some time.

Our EIC took to Twitter to push the President towards following through with his threat against Turkey should they cross the line. As he noted, they have clearly crossed the line.

Reports of civilian deaths are mounting. It isn’t just the Kurds that Turkey and al Qaeda are targeting. Syriac Christians are in the crosshairs as well. The intense fighting seems to be focused on clearing out entire cities to make room for the millions of refugees the Turks currently hold. Instead of just taking out military targets from the Kurds, who Turkey believes to be terrorists, the invaders are wiping out the entire populations in cities and villages near the border.

Senator Lindsey Graham chimed in. Graham has been a Trump supporter, but broke from the White House over the Syrian withdrawal. Now, he’s voicing hope and alignment with the President’s sanction plans.

Turkish President Erdogan clearly lied to President Trump. It’s time to send them a clear message in response. Our troops may be coming home, but we can stop this bloodbath through sanctions. Cripple their economy, Mr. President.

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