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Syrian opposition seeks to close ranks as army gains on ground

RIYADH Syria’s fragmented opposition and rebel groups sought common ground on Wednesday ahead of planned negotiations to finish a conflict which has devastated the country and drawn forces from Cold War and Middle East rivals into ever deeper combat operations.

The talks in Saudi Arabia mark the most ambitious attempt but to unify President Bashar al-Assad’s enemies around a joint political platform – seen as a essential very first step to locating a peaceful finish to four years of war and battling Islamic State.

The powerful Kurdish YPG is among numerous groups excluded from the talks and those there are deeply divided more than central concerns like how to handle a transition from Assad and the function Islam must play in Syria.

But two delegates identified solace in what they described as a lack of any main rupture so far amongst those present.

“It went properly. Very good. We discussed many things. Tomorrow we will go over a document of basic principles,” said one particular opposition member. The groups hoped to total the talks on Thursday, but they may continue into Friday, he said.

A member of the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition said there had been broad agreement: “We discussed the main problems relating to the dialogue, the transition and all modalities related to the political method. Most of them agreed.”

Much more than 100 delegates have been invited to the Riyadh meeting, such as from the Islamist insurgent group Ahrar al-Sham, founded by militants with al Qaeda hyperlinks, as well as opposition figures who have been primarily based in government-controlled Damascus.

Whilst most agree on a call for Assad to go, despite signs that some Western backers have softened their demands right after recognizing that military force has failed to topple the president, rifts in opposition ranks are still clear.

Prior to the talks opened on Wednesday, Ahrar al-Sham complained that some delegates have been “closer to … the regime” than the opposition. 1 activist in exile declined to attend alongside these who “assistance an Islamic emirate” in Syria.

International efforts to resolve the conflict which has killed 250,000 folks and displaced 12 million have been lent added urgency by a wave of deadly attacks across the planet claimed by the Iraq- and Syria-primarily based Islamic State and by an escalating refugee flow which has caused a crisis in Europe.

Main powers agreed in Vienna last month to revive diplomatic efforts to end the war, calling for peace talks to begin by January 1.

That prompted Saudi Arabia, which projects itself as a leader of the Middle East’s Sunni Muslims, to summon the mainly Sunni opposition and rebel groups. The move angered rival Shi’ite Iran which stated the initiative threatened to harm the Vienna process.

The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, whose country is also a key supporter of the Syrian rebels, mentioned the Riyadh meeting represented a “golden opportunity (for the Syrian opposition) to unify their ranks and coordinate their steps beyond setting up a negotiating group”.


Intensified diplomacy has been accompanied by higher military intervention by foreign powers.

Russia has carried out 10 weeks of air strikes, halting rebel gains, and Iran has also offered Assad military support and said ousting Assad would be a “red line” for Tehran.

Western powers have stepped up attacks on Islamic State although Saudi Arabia, which backs the rebels, says an expanded military selection remains open.

Last month NATO member Turkey shot down a Russian plane it said flew into its air space, highlighting the danger that Syria’s multi-faceted war could spark yet wider conflict.

Russia’s air campaign has helped the Syrian army, backed by Hezbollah fighters and the Iranian military, to halt a rebel advance more than the summer which had threatened Assad’s manage more than the main population centers in western Syria.

Russian air strikes, even though containing rebel advances, have not decisively tipped the war in Assad’s favor.

On Wednesday, scores of people left the final region held by insurgents in the city of Homs, a center of the uprising against Assad which broke out in March 2011. About 750 men and women are anticipated to leave the Waer district below a regional truce among the government and rebels.

Further north, Syrian government troops backed by Iranian forces have edged closer to a significant rebel-controlled highway near Aleppo. They appeared to be attempting to cut the principal Aleppo-Damascus highway that fighters use to transport supplies from rebel-held Idlib province to the north.

For Saudi Arabia, which has been fighting considering that March in neighboring Yemen, Syria has been a secondary battlefield in its regional struggle for influence with Iran. But the kingdom nonetheless views the Syrian civil war as central to that rivalry.

Ahrar al-Sham mentioned the Riyadh meeting, which opened at a luxury hotel amid high safety, must stand by demands like “the complete cleansing of the Russian-Iranian occupation of Syrian land, and the sectarian militias which support it”.


It known as for the “overthrow of the Assad regime with all its pillars and symbols” and placing its members on trial.

Syrian security and military institutions should also be dissolved it stated, putting it at odds with globe powers which agreed in Vienna final month that state institutions be kept intact in any transition of power.

Other rebel factions at the Saudi talks contain the strong Islamist force Islam Army, and a dozen groups which describe themselves as elements of the Cost-free Syrian Army (FSA).

The head of one particular FSA armed group mentioned the 1st day of talks was focused on discussing opposition demands and drafting a concluding statement. 

“The principles are the unity of Syrian land, the civilian nature of the state, and the unity of the Syrian people,” he said. Ahrar al-Sham stated Syria’s “Islamic identity” must be maintained.

Hadi al-Bahra, a senior member of the opposition National Coalition, mentioned there was a optimistic atmosphere and “no differences amongst the delegates” so far. “Everyone senses the value and sensitivity of this stage”, he tweeted.

Despite the fact that scores of men and women have been asked to attend, the Kurdish administration that runs swathes of north Syria was not invited.

Rebels in western Syria do not trust the principal Kurdish militia, the YPG, due to the fact they say it cooperates with Damascus rather than fighting it.

Delegates stated there was some Kurdish representation, but a Western diplomat who follows Syria stated this week the meeting had not brought together as several Syrian factions as hoped.

“It is not all-encompassing. It is not the consolidated, general opposition platform,” the diplomat stated.

(Further reporting by Tom Perry and Sylvia Westall in Beirut Writing by Dominic Evans, editing by Sami Aboudi, Peter Millership and Philippa Fletcher)

Agen Sabung Ayam

Turkey defends ground troops in Iraq as war escalates

ISTANBUL/ERBIL Turkey mentioned on Monday it would not withdraw hundreds of soldiers who arrived last week at a base in northern Iraq, despite being ordered by Baghdad to pull them out inside 48 hours.

The sudden arrival of such a huge and heavily armed Turkish contingent in a camp near the frontline in northern Iraq has added but yet another controversial deployment to a war against Islamic State fighters that has drawn in most of the world’s major powers.

Ankara says the troops are there as portion of an international mission to train and equip Iraqi forces to fight against Islamic State. The Iraqi government says it never ever invited such a force, and will take its case to the United Nations if they are not pulled out.

Washington, which is leading an international coalition against Islamic State that contains Turkey, Arab states and European powers like Britain and France, has told Ankara and Baghdad to resolve the standoff, and says it does not help deployments in Iraq with out Baghdad’s consent.

The Turkish troops’ presence is an embarrassment for Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Abadi, beneath powerful stress from strong Iran-backed Shi’ite political groups to kick them out.

Shi’ite parties linked to militia groups armed and funded by Iran have also complained about U.S. plans to station special forces in Iraq to conduct raids and guide bombs against Islamic State. Political stress on Abadi could make these plans far more tough to carry out.

Political analysts saw last week’s deployment in northern Iraq by Turkey, which has the second greatest army in NATO, as a bid to assert its influence in the face of improved Russian and Iranian involvement in Syria and Iraq.

“Turkey appears to be angling to prove to the Russians and Iranians that they will not be permitted to have either the Syrian or Iraqi war theaters only to themselves,” stated Aydin Selcen, former consul basic of Turkey in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.


The troops arrived on Thursday with tanks and armored personnel carriers at a camp in territory held by Iraqi Kurds near the Islamic State-held northern Iraqi city of Mosul. Ankara mentioned they have been there to support safeguard a education mission close to the front line.

“It is our duty to supply safety for our soldiers delivering education there,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview on Turkey’s Kanal 24 tv.

“Everybody is present in Iraq … The objective of all of them is clear. Train-and-equip advisory support is being provided. Our presence there is not a secret,” he added.

Abadi has referred to as the Turkish deployment a violation of Iraqi sovereignty. Government spokesman Saad al-Hadithi said Iraq was nevertheless waiting for Turkey to respond officially.

“In case we have not received any optimistic indicators before the deadline we set for the Turkish side, then we maintain our legal appropriate to file a complaint to the Security Council to stop this significant violation to Iraqi sovereignty,” he stated.

A senior Turkish official mentioned Baghdad’s objections had come as a surprise: “There was no single development … that occurred without informing the central government.”

“The military personnel for education will keep. Not since we want them (there) especially but due to the fact there is a demand from the Iraqi side. The discussion with the central government still continues,” the official told reporters.

He mentioned the total quantity of Turkish troops across Iraq was considerably much less than 1,000 soldiers, with some having arrived from Turkey and others sent to the base from other parts of Iraq.

Islamic State militants overran Mosul, Iraq’s main northern city and residence to around 2 million folks, in June 2014. An expected counter-offensive by Iraqi forces has been repeatedly postponed because they are involved in fighting elsewhere.

The U.S.-led coalition has been staging air strikes on Islamic State bases in each Iraq and Syria for much more than a year.

Russia joined the regional conflict with air strikes of its personal on Syria two months ago, and like Iran is allied to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, who is opposed by Turkey, the United States and their allies. Turkey shot down a Russian warplane final month, causing a breakdown in relations with Moscow.


Brett McGurk, U.S. President Barack Obama’s envoy to the international coalition to counter Islamic State, stated on Twitter that Washington did not help missions in Iraq with no permission of Baghdad, which he stated also applied to U.S. missions there.

The camp occupied by the Turkish troops is becoming utilized by a force named Hashid Watani, or national mobilization, produced up of mainly Sunni Arab former Iraqi police and volunteers from Mosul.

It is observed as a counterweight to Shi’ite militias that have grown in clout elsewhere in Iraq with Iranian backing, and was formed by former Nineveh governor Atheel al-Nujaifi, who has close relations with Turkey. A modest quantity of Turkish trainers had been currently there prior to the newest deployment.

The government of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish area, whose safety forces handle the location where the Turks are deployed, backed up Ankara’s explanation: Thursday’s deployment was intended to expand the capacity of the instruction base, stated Safeen Dizayee, Kurdish government spokesman.

“The increase of personnel calls for some protection.”

Although Turkey is strongly suspicious of Kurds in Syria, it has great relations with Iraq’s Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani.

“Turkey, operating via the Nujaifis and the Barzanis, is attempting to establish its personal sphere of influence in northern Iraq,” stated Aaron Stein, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

(Extra reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Istanbul, Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, Orhan Coskun and Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara Writing by Nick Tattersall Editing by Pravin Char, Peter Millership and Peter Graff)

Agen Sabung Ayam

NATO says will not send ground troops to fight IS: report

ZURICH NATO has ruled out sending ground troops to fight against Islamic State militants in Syria, NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg told a Swiss newspaper, stressing the need to bolster local forces in the conflict.

“That is not on the agenda of the coalition and the NATO allies,” he told the Tages-Anzeiger paper when asked about dispatching ground forces to accompany air strikes.

“The United States has a limited number of special forces. In the foreground, however, is strengthening local forces. This is not easy, but it’s the only option,” he added

Stoltenberg stressed that the conflict was not a war between the West and the Islamic world, but rather against “extremism and terrorism”.

“Muslims are on the front line in this war. Most victims are Muslims, and most of those who fight against the IS are Muslims. We can not carry on this struggle for them,” he said.

Stoltenberg pointed out that NATO would help Turkey improve its air defenses after Turkey shot down a Russian military jet last month. The alliance will adopt a package of measures for Turkey before Christmas, he added.

He emphasized the need to calm the standoff with Russia after the plane was shot down.

“Now it is important to de-escalate and to develop mechanisms to prevent similar incidents in the future. We see a significant build-up of the Russian military presence from the far north to the Mediterranean. There, too, we need to avoid similar incidents such as in Turkey,” he said.

He called for Russia to “play a more constructive role in the fight against IS. So far, Russia has attacked other groups and focused on supporting the Assad regime.”

U.S. President Barack Obama said last week his decision to send more U.S. special forces to combat Islamic State in Iraq was not an indication that the United States was heading for another invasion like the one in 2003.

Obama has said his strategy to fight the militant group in Iraq and Syria does not include U.S. ground combat troops, but the Pentagon announced it would send a new force of special operations troops.

(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Agen Sabung Ayam