Erdoğan said Thursday that Manbij and Raqqa belong to the Arabs and Turkey’s next target in Syria is to liberate these two cities, respectively controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), controlled mostly by the PKK-affiliated Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), and the Daesh terror group. Speaking to journalists on the presidential plane during his return trip from Pakistan, Erdoğan reiterated that Turkey will not allow an independent terrorist state to be present along its border. “After the liberation of al-Bab from Daesh terrorists, Turkey’s new target in Syria is Manbij. Manbij is a city that belongs to the Arabs, and the SDF must also not be in Raqqa”, the Turkish president said. Answering a question regarding U.S. support to the SDF, Erdoğan noted that the new Trump administration does not seem to have yet reached a final decision as to how the operation to free Raqqa from Daesh should be organized. “Their chief of staff [U.S. Gen. Joseph Dunford], and the new head of the CIA [Mike Pompeo] came to Turkey and we too told them that the SDF must be excluded from the Raqqa operation. The presence of armed terrorists along its borders is unacceptable for Turkey”, Erdoğan said.
Kremlin’s spokesman says President Vladimir Putin has been informed by Russia’s defense minister that Syrian government forces have taken control of Palmyra, with support from Russian warplanes. Syrian state media said the government forces battling the Islamic State group re-entered Palmyra earlier in the day, aiming to retake the historic town that they had lost to the militants in December.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson promised more aid for Cairo’s counter-terrorism efforts and economic development plan during a meeting with Egyptian counterpart SamehShoukry in Washington on Monday, adding that the Washington considers Cairo a real partner in the Middle East. The two officials stressed during their meeting the special and strategic ties that have binded the two countries for decades, vowing more cooperation on all levels. Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said that Shoukry updated his US counterpart on the latest economic and security developments in Egypt, as well as the country’s counter-terrorism efforts. The two ministers also discussed a range of regional issues, including the Syrian crisis, where Shoukry stressed the importance of reaching a political solution to the conflict in a way that preserves the country’s territorial integrity and national institutions and achieves the hopes of the Syrian people. Shoukry also spoke with Tillerson about Egypt’s political efforts to end the crisis in Libya in accordance with the UN-brokered Skhirat agreement of 2015. On the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Egyptian FM stressed the necessity of establishing a Palestinian state, pointing to Cairo’s efforts to return both sides to the negotiating table.
Shoukry will also discuss with US officials preparations for Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s upcoming visit to the US to meet with President Donald Trump, which will be the first meeting between an Egyptian and US president in years. The last official meeting in Washington of the countries’ two leaders was between former presidents Hosni Mubarak and George W. Bush in 2004.
Israeli warplanes struck Hizbullah and Syrian army targets in a number of hills in the Syria-Lebanon border region at dawn Wednesday, media reports said, drawing a rebuttal from Hizbullah sources. “Suspected Israeli warplanes fired at least six missiles at the al-Qutaifa mountainous region in Damascus’ northeastern countryside, targeting arms depots in an area where the regime forces’ Third Division is deployed”, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported, quoting “a number of credible sources”. The bombing caused “destruction” but “there are no reports of casualties until the moment”, the Observatory added. “Hizbullah sources denied that the raids had targeted areas inside Lebanon”, Sky News Arabia added. The Hizbullah-affiliated Military Media arm meanwhile said “reports claiming that Israeli raids have targeted a region in Lebanon’s Eastern Mountain Belt and resistance posts in the belt and Syria’s Qalamoun are baseless”.
Syria peace talks due to start this week in Geneva are based on the broad mandate of a U.N. resolution that asks the U.N. mediator to hold talks on a “political transition process”, an official involved in the talks said on Tuesday. Michael Contet, chief of staff of Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, told a regular U.N. briefing that de Mistura was putting the final touches to arrangements for the talks. “The invitations as well as the substantive agenda for the negotiations are all based on the wide scope of Security Council resolutions, in particular (U.N. Security Council Resolution) 2254, which is our main guidance in this process”.
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi said Monday that the recent negotiations held in the Kazakh capital of Astana on the Syrian crisis have been “successful” despite attempts by some countries to depict them as a failure. He also emphasized that there were differences of opinion among the representatives of the Syrian opposition groups, which made the Turkish delegation to participate in the talks with delay and at a lower level. He expressed the hope that the process of Astana negotiations and efforts by Iran, Russia and Turkey would lead to a swift end to a crisis that has engulfed Syria for six years. Speaking to the IRIB at the conclusion of the Astana talks earlier on Friday, Head of Iran’s diplomatic team in the Astana talks hailed a “calmer and more conciliatory” atmosphere in the peace talks than the previous round.
The three sides of Iran, Russia, and Turkey meeting in Kazakhstan’s Astana to discuss the ongoing situation in Syria, have drafted a document over a joint committee tasked with safeguarding a current ceasefire in the country. Strengthening the ceasefire, promoting trust-building measures by the conflicting Syrian sides, as well as discussing any issues that would help Syrian-Syrian talks are among the missions of the committee, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari, who had attended the Astana talks on behalf of Iran, told the IRIB on February 16.
The General Directorate of General Security on Wednesday announced the arrest of three people who were tasked by a Syria-based terrorist group to scout possible targets for “bomb and vehicle-ramming attacks” in Lebanon. In a statement, General Security said “Lebanese national M. Kh., his Lebanese wife H. H. and Palestinian refugee M. M. were arrested for belonging to a terrorist group, communicating with senior officials in it, and attempting to leave for Syria to join its ranks”. “During interrogation, they confessed to the charges, admitting that they belong to a terrorist group and that Palestinian refugee M. M. had recruited the aforementioned couple on behalf of the group” the statement added. The Lebanese couple “traveled to Turkey with the aim of entering Syria to join the wife’s relatives who fight alongside the terrorist group, but their attempt failed after they were arrested by Turkish authorities and sent back to Lebanon”. After arriving in Lebanon, Lebanese national M. Kh. communicated with his Syria-based brother-in-law A. H. who linked him to one of the group’s security handlers, General Security added. The handler tasked him with “collecting information and identifying figures or gatherings for possible bomb attacks, suicide operations or vehicle-ramming attacks that can be labeled as ‘quick forays’” the statement said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday reiterated Russia’s firm stance towards a political solution to the crisis in Syria, adding that “Sadly for us, without meeting reciprocity from the current US administration.” Peskov added that “It is premature to say how the new US administration will act, which position it will take” regarding the crisis in Syria and the situation in the whole region. He added that “Neither the Kremlin nor representatives of the Russian Foreign Ministry have had anything to do with an event in Paris on the situation in Syria, in which US President-elect Donald Trump’s son took part.”