Questions on ‘safe zone’ abound, as ISIS relocates troops, eyeing Deir Ezzor and Aleppo

Washington Post report questions the prospects of a ‘safe zone’ inside Syria, in a story filed from Antep, Turkey:

U.S. and Turkish officials last month announced a landmark deal to fight the Islamic State, the militant group that has seized large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria.

But while news of the deal has spurred hope among Syrians, neither the United States nor Turkey has offered details on how such a zone would be established and enforced. In the past two weeks, the Islamic State and al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, have launched attacks in the area where the United States and Turkey hope to establish the zone. Analysts say that any plans for a buffer zone will fail unless there is a will to organize, administer and police the region.

“I don’t think we will see anything approaching what even resembles a safe zone” in Syria, said Yezid Sayigh, a senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.

“If you’re going to have significant numbers of people sheltering in the zone, you’ll need various things — like electricity, fuel, water tanks, piping, clinics,” Sayigh said. But instead of planning for large humanitarian or reconstruction operations, Turkey and the United States are “mostly trying to do PR” for an unworkable plan, he said.

International law says safe zones should be neutral areas that are free of combatants and where civilians are guaranteed protection. American officials have said, however, that the zone — which they envision stretching 68 miles long and 40 miles deep, reaching the outskirts of Aleppo — will be a staging ground for U.S.-backed rebels battling the Islamic State. The administration will not declare it a protected area, the officials said. This is likely to undermine Turkey’s goal of establishing a haven for Syrian refugees.

Full story here.

And, this one is a report by Breitbart, on ISIS moves:

As Turkey and the United States jointly conduct airstrikes aimed at eliminating the influence of ISIS, the terrorist group has begun to relocate its troops in an attempt to capture cities where neither Kurds nor rival jihadi ground troops are a threat– towns still officially in control of the Syrian government.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based watchdog group, Islamic State jihadis are being moved into Deir Ezzor, a central Syrian city by the Euphrates River far from the Turkish and Iraqi borders. The group’s report claims “large numbers of foreign fighters are weapons” have moved there in order to solidify their hold on the town, with a few neighborhoods still nominally under control of President Bashar al-Assad.

The move follows a weekend in which ISIS appeared to be bouncing back from attacks by a campaign jointly under control of Turkey and the United States. Turkey began conducting airstrikes in Syria and Iraq last month, though the government has been accused of using its force to weaken the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an enemy terrorist group to ISIS, more than it has fought ISIS itself. The United States begun striking ISIS targets with manned aircraft flying out of Turkey on August 12, the Pentagon confirmed.

Despite this campaign, however, Chinese state news outlet Xinhua reported that a major offensive by the terrorist group resulted in up to 50 Syrian rebels killed in Aleppo province, bordering Syria. The rebels were believed to be aligned with the the al-Shaitaat tribe who, while Sunni Muslims, have resisted Islamic State advances since the terrorist group first arrived in their region.

The Islamic State also took hold of the town of Umm Housh in Aleppo, which Arutz Sheva notes is “along a rebel supply line from Turkey. “ISIS is trying to seize control of these villages from rebels to cut their supply route between Aleppo city and its outskirts, and the town of Azaz,” Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, explained.

The advances of Turkey and the United States appear to have changed the Islamic State’s strategy from moving closer to Turkey and taking on Kurdish-protected towns directly to attempting to conquer towns held by independent rebels or regions controlled by al-Assad piecemeal. Another development that has served to benefit ISIS is the announcement by the al-Nusra Front, an Al Qaeda subgroup, that they would cease to operate in the “ISIS-free area” Turkey is attempting to create in Syria. Nusra spokesmen objected to the Turkish government’s military advance, accusing Ankara of being more invested in “Turkey’s national security” than in toppling Assad, the Nusra Front’s main objective. Al Qaeda and ISIS are rival jihadi groups.

Full text here.

About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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