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‘We have Plan B’: Turkey warning over violation of Idlib deal

Turkey’s defence minister has warned that Ankara will change its plan of action in northwestern Syria if agreements over the last major rebel enclave in the country continue to be violated. Ankara and Moscow, which back opposing sides in the conflict, have brokered a ceasefire for Idlib where Syrian government forces backed by Russian jets have pressed…

‘We have Plan B’: Turkey warning over violation of Idlib deal

Turkey’s defence minister has warned that Ankara will change its plan of action in northwestern Syria if agreements over the last major rebel enclave in the country continue to be violated.
Ankara and Moscow, which back opposing sides in the conflict, have brokered a ceasefire for Idlib where Syrian government forces backed by Russian jets have pressed ahead with a fierce assault to capture the region from groups opposing President Bashar al-Assad.
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“If the agreement kept being violated, we have Plan B and Plan C,” Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said in an interview published by the Hurriyet daily on Sunday.
“We, on every occasion, say ‘do not force us, otherwise our Plan B and Plan C are ready’.”
He did not give details but referred to Ankara’s military campaigns in Syria since 2016.
“Our observation posts there will remain in place within the agreement,” Akar said. “Despite this, if there is any obstacle, we put it clearly that we will do what’s necessary.”
As part of a 2018 deal with Russia, Turkey set up 12 observation posts in Idlib, and Turkish security sources said this week three of them have now been encircled by forces loyal to al-Assad.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has given Damascus until the end of the month to pull back from the outposts, warning that if they do not do so, Ankara would drive them back. He has also urged Moscow to convince the Syrian government to halt its ongoing offensive.
Potential for confrontation ‘increasing’
Since December, the Russian-backed Syrian army has pressed a blistering offensive against Idlib, home to more than three million people, retaking town after town from their opponents.
The violence has killed more than 300 civilians and sent some 586,000 fleeing towards the closed Turkish border,  threatening a new humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations.
Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, says it cannot absorb any more. In recent days, it  has deployed large convoys of vehicles carrying commandos, tanks and howitzers to shore up its military posts in Idlib.
On Saturday, Syrian state media said government forces had captured the Idlib town of Saraqeb, located on a junction of the strategic M5 highway. The motorway links Aleppo, once Syria’s economic hub, to Damascus and continues south to the Jordanian border.
With Saraqeb recaptured, little more than half of Idlib province remains in rebel hands, along with slivers of neighbouring Aleppo and Latakia provinces.
Syrian government forces have also taken over strategic villages in the southern and northwestern parts of Aleppo, including hilltop areas, said Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Istanbul.
This could give the Syrian army “advantage to control, monitor and shell rebel positions in Idlib”, Ahelbarra said.
“The potential for a military confrontation pitting the Turkish army against the Syrian army is further increasing,” he added.
‘All options on the table’
Meanwhile, a senior Turkish official warned on Sunday “all options are on the table”.
“There was a serious troop and military equipment support sent to Syria’s Idlib region in recent weeks,” the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters news agency.
Three-hundred vehicles entered Idlib on Saturday, bringing the total to around 1,000 this month, he said.
He declined to say exactly how many new troops had been deployed, but described it as a “notable amount”.
“The observation points have been fully reinforced,” the official said. “The Idlib front has been strengthened.”
On Monday, eight Turkish military personnel were killed in shelling by Syrian government forces, prompting a response by Turkey’s army.
Idlib has long been a destination for civilians and rebel fighters who were either displaced or fled the government’s offensive elsewhere in Syria. Ankara backs certain rebel groups opposing al-Assad’s rule.
The Syrian government and Russia maintain the military operation in Idlib is aimed at driving out “terrorists” from the region, in accordance with the 2018 agreement.
The Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham armed group, a former al-Qaeda affiliate that is considered by Russia and Turkey a “terrorist” organisation, controls a large portion of Idlib.
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Turkey slams ‘biased’ EU sanctions over Libya arms embargo |NationalTribune.com

Turkey says the EU’s monitoring mission is biased as it overlooks armed shipments delivered by air and land routes [File: Matthias Schrader/AP] Turkey says the European Union’s sanctions on a Turkish firm accused of breaking a United Nations arms embargo on Libya showed the bloc’s double standards and biased stance. The EU on Monday froze…

Turkey slams ‘biased’ EU sanctions over Libya arms embargo |NationalTribune.com

Turkey says the EU’s monitoring mission is biased as it overlooks armed shipments delivered by air and land routes [File: Matthias Schrader/AP]
Turkey says the European Union’s sanctions on a Turkish firm accused of breaking a United Nations arms embargo on Libya showed the bloc’s double standards and biased stance.
The EU on Monday froze the assets of Avrasya Shipping, whose cargo vessel Cirkin was involved in a naval incident between NATO members France and Turkey in June.
The EU has accused the company of using the ship to smuggle weapons to Libya.
Ankara denies the arms-trafficking claim and says the ship was carrying humanitarian aid.
“The EU’s IRINI Operation is rewarding Haftar, and punishing the UN-recognised Libyan government,” Turkey’s foreign ministry said late on Monday, referring to the EU’s military mission in the Mediterranean to stop arms from reaching warring factions in Libya.
Ankara has supported Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli in the west.
Eastern Libya and much of the south, however, is controlled by renegade commander Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), which is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia.
“Overlooking those countries and companies, starting with the UAE, that send weapons from land and air to the putschist Haftar in violation of the [UN Security Council] decisions, while the support provided to the legitimate government … is deemed an embargo violation, is a clear signal that the EU is … biased,” Turkey’s foreign ministry said.
In addition to sanctions on the Turkish company, the EU also imposed sanctions on two Libyan men, and two other companies – Kazakhstan’s Sigma Airlines and Jordan’s Med Wave Shipping.
“When effort is being made to decrease the tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, taking such a wrong decision is unfortunate,” Turkey’s foreign ministry said.
Turkey may also face EU sanctions due to a dispute with Greece and Cyprus over rights to natural resources in the Eastern Mediterranean, although tensions between Ankara and Athens have reduced in recent days.

SOURCE:
Reuters news agency

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Turkey to continue supporting Libya’s GNA even if al-Sarraj quits |NationalTribune.com

Turkey will continue to support Libya’s internationally recognised government despite Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj announcing last week that he planned to step down by the end of next month, according to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman. Ibrahim Kalin said on Monday that Turkish support for the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) and their bilateral…

Turkey to continue supporting Libya’s GNA even if al-Sarraj quits |NationalTribune.com

Turkey will continue to support Libya’s internationally recognised government despite Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj announcing last week that he planned to step down by the end of next month, according to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman.
Ibrahim Kalin said on Monday that Turkish support for the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) and their bilateral agreements, which include a security pact and a maritime demarcation deal signed last year, would continue.
“These accords will not be impacted by this political period because these are decisions made by the government, not by any individual,” Kalin told Demiroren News Agency.
Late last year, Ankara reached an agreement with the GNA that it says grants Turkey drilling rights across a corridor of the Eastern Mediterranean – much of it within the maritime jurisdiction Greece also claims. Greece, Cyprus and other regional actors have denounced the Turkish-Libyan agreement as “illegal”, which Turkey denies.
Kalin said Turkish officials would travel to Tripoli “in the coming days” to discuss developments in the wake of al-Sarraj’s announcement.
Erdogan had also hinted at upcoming talks as he expressed regret at his close ally’s stated intention to hand over power by the end of October.
“Such a development, receiving this kind of news afterwards, was of course saddening for us,” Erdogan said on Friday.
“We also conveyed some news to him,” he added. “With these meetings, God willing, we can turn this issue in the direction it’s supposed to be,” Erdogan continued, without elaborating.

Since 2014, oil-rich Libya has been split between rival powers based in the west and in the east, in a sometimes chaotic war that has drawn in outside powers and a flood of foreign arms and mercenaries.
Al-Sarraj has headed the GNA since its formation in late 2015 as a result of a United Nations-brokered political agreement aimed at uniting and stabilising Libya after the turmoil that followed the toppling of longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Turkish military support for the GNA in June allowed it to repel a 14 month-long offensive by forces loyal to eastern-based renegade commander Khalifa Haftar, who is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia.
The GNA declared a ceasefire last month and called for the lifting of a months-long blockade on oil output. The leader of a rival parliament in eastern Libya also appealed for a halt to hostilities, offering hope for a de-escalation of the conflict across Libya since a 2011 uprising.
Haftar dismissed the calls, but said on Friday he would lift for one month his blockade on oil outputs and that he had agreed with the GNA on “fair distribution” of energy revenue.
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Turkey open to Mediterranean Sea talks but ‘determined’: Erdogan |NationalTribune.com

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday Ankara was open to “constructive” talks but would remain determined in its eastern Mediterranean standoff with Greece. Erdogan made the comments in a videoconference call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel before an EU summit next week, at which the bloc will discuss imposing sanctions on Turkey over its…

Turkey open to Mediterranean Sea talks but ‘determined’: Erdogan |NationalTribune.com

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday Ankara was open to “constructive” talks but would remain determined in its eastern Mediterranean standoff with Greece.
Erdogan made the comments in a videoconference call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel before an EU summit next week, at which the bloc will discuss imposing sanctions on Turkey over its search for energy in waters claimed by Cyprus and Greece.
Germany has taken the lead in trying to mediate an end to a conflict that has seen the two NATO neighbours stage rival air and sea drills in strategic waters between Cyprus and Crete.

The Turkish presidency said Erdogan told Merkel the dispute “could be resolved through negotiations … provided that a constructive approach, based on fairness, prevails”.
Erdogan “underscored he will continue to implement a decisive and active policy with regard to Turkey’s rights”, his office said.
Turkey says the EU unfairly backs Greece in a maritime dispute that stretches back decades, but which gained added importance with the discovery of large natural gas deposits in recent years.
‘Continue our operations’
The standoff appeared to be cooling off when Turkey’s Oruc Reis research vessel and its accompanying fleet of warships ended their month-long mission near a Greek island and pulled back to shore last weekend.
But Turkey stressed the vessel was only undergoing planned maintenance and would soon continue its exploration in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told broadcaster CNN Turk on Wednesday that Oruc Reis’s maintenance may take “a few weeks”.
“Once maintenance is finished, we will continue our operations with determination,” he said.
The Turkish navy on Tuesday also announced the extension of the Yavuz drillship’s stay in disputed waters near Cyprus until October 12.
On Wednesday, the EU urged Turkey to remove the Yavuz from the area in the way that it moved the Oruc Reis.
“The recent withdrawal of the research vessel Oruc Reis is an important step paving the way for a meaningful dialogue between Greece and Turkey. The EU also calls for a similar decisions as concerns Cyprus,” said a spokesperson for the bloc’s diplomatic chief Josep Borrell.
“There is an opportunity to pursue immediate de-escalation and resume dialogue and negotiations, which is the only path towards lasting solutions,” he added.

Turkey’s research vessel, Oruc Reis, heads west of Antalya on the Mediterranean Sea [Turkish energy ministry via AP]

‘Blackmail and threats’
Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Wednesday he was concerned by Turkey’s move to extend the operation of its Yavuz energy drillship in disputed Mediterranean waters.
“Turkey has a choice – engage with Europe in a constructive way or continue its unilateral actions and face consequences,” he said in an interview with the Economist.
The Turkish and Greek war games have drawn in EU powers and even the naval assets of the United States and the United Arab Emirates.
NATO is hosting periodic rounds of technical talks aimed at opening up channels of communication that could keep Greece and Turkey from accidentally going to war.

Their two navies’ warships collided on August 12 in an incident that prompted Erdogan to warn Greece of a “heavy price” to pay were Turkish ships ever attacked.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday nothing could justify the intimidation of Greece and Cyprus by Turkey.
Cyprus, meanwhile, said it is ready to talk to Turkey to resolve differences but only “without blackmail and threats”, its president said on Wednesday.
“Nicosia has been always ready for a dialogue but for that … to be effective, it needs to be clearly defined based on international law, without blackmail or threats,” Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said after talks with European Council President Charles Michel, who chairs EU summits.
Anastasiades said Turkey’s move to extend the Yavuz drillship’s operations came at a time when the EU, of which Cyprus is a member state, was trying to reduce tensions.
EU leaders will look for ways to defuse tensions at the summit on September 24-25.
“In view of the EU Council meeting next week, we underscored the importance of staying united on the messages [to Turkey] and determined to implement our decisions if the illicit actions continue,” Anastasiades said.
Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Faruk Kaymakci told an online panel on EU-Turkey relations the operations were in response to “unilateral actions” by Greek Cypriots and Greece.
“This is not an intimidation, this is just to say that Turkey will continue to defend its own rights and also the rights of Turkish Cypriots,” Kaymakci said.
Cyprus was split in two after a 1974 Turkish invasion in response to a brief Greek-inspired coup. Turkey recognises the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north, but not the internationally-recognised Greek Cypriot government.
The government has long been at loggerheads with Turkey, which began drilling for oil and gas near Cyprus last year.
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