DDMA Headline Animator

Friday, September 2, 2016

Turkey to build refugee cities on security-zone

26 August 2016 Friday

New details are coming to light in Turkey's military operation in Syria, Euphrates Shield, which has continued with great determination.

The operation, conducted together with opposition groups fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), primarily aims to build new settlements in northern Syria, which will host millions of refugees who had been forced to flee the war in their homeland, according to reports.

Turkey has already accepted 2.7 million Syrian refugees, who have found shelter across 81 provinces in Turkey, many of whom live in overcrowded refugee camps. A majority still wants to emigrate to a third country.

The aim of the safety zone is to establish an area where Syrians, who are fleeing to Turkey from the Syrian regime's violence, can be accommodated without security risks. Turkey demands the safety zone to be imposed under the umbrella of NATO, rather than be under supervision of a few countries.

Ankara is believed to be setting up such a zone in line with UN resolution No. 2170, which calls on all UN member states to mobilize to suppress the flow of foreign fighters, their financing and other support to notorious groups in Iraq and Syria. Authorities in Ankara have planned to establish temporary settlements for refugees, who have been registered in Turkey, in the southern areas of Kilis and Gaziantep provinces before building permanent settlements.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/headlines/176664/turkey-to-build-refugee-cities-on-security-zone.

Turkey sends more tanks to Syria, insists on Kurdish retreat

August 25, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey sent more tanks into northern Syria on Thursday and gave Syrian Kurdish forces a week to scale back their presence near the Turkish border, a day after it launched a U.S.-backed cross-border incursion to establish a frontier zone free of the Islamic State group and Kurdish rebels.

Skirmishes broke out between Turkish-backed Syrian rebels and the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters, raising the potential for an all-out confrontation between the two American allies that would also jeopardize the fight against the Islamic State group in the volatile area.

Turkey's incursion Wednesday to capture the town of Jarablus was a dramatic escalation of Turkey's role in Syria's war and adds yet another powerhouse force on the ground in an already complicated conflict.

But Ankara's objective went beyond fighting extremists. Turkey is also aiming to contain the expansion by Syria's Kurds, who have used the fight against IS and the chaos of Syria's civil war to seize nearly the entire stretch of territory along Syria's northern border with Turkey.

Above all, Ankara seeks to avoid Kurdish forces linking up their strongholds along the border. The U.S. has backed its NATO ally, sending a stern warning to the Syrian Kurds with whom it has partnered in the fight against IS to stay east of the Euphrates River. The river crosses from Turkey into Syria at Jarablus.

"The U.S. is interested in stopping this from becoming a confrontation between the YPG and Turkey. That would be a huge detriment to the anti-IS campaign," said Chris Kozak, a Syria researcher at the Washington-based Institute of the Study of War, referring to the main U.S.-backed Kurdish faction fighting IS. Turkey accuses the group of links to Kurdish groups waging an insurgency in southeastern Turkey.

Kozak said an open confrontation between Turkey and the Kurds in Syria would undo much of the progress made working with the Kurdish forces against IS in northern Syria. If there are direct clashes, the U.S. would be forced to take sides, he said, and Washington would likely side with its NATO ally, whose air base is used to launch coalition airstrikes against the extremists in Syria and Iraq.

Also, if the Syrian Kurdish forces are distracted in clashes with the Turks and have to shift resources toward front lines with Turkey or with Turkish-backed opposition groups, that "buys (IS) some breathing space," Kozak said.

On Thursday, Turkish officials said Syrian Kurdish forces had started withdrawing east of the Euphrates River. The news was relayed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a telephone conversation with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations.

Syrian Kurdish officials contacted by The Associated Press would not confirm or deny that their forces were withdrawing east. Instead, the main Syrian Kurdish faction, the YPG, said its troops had "returned to their bases" after helping liberate the northern Syrian city of Manbij from the Islamic State group earlier this month. Manbij lies west of the Euphrates about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Jarablus, and Ankara has demanded the Kurds hand it over to Syrian rebels and withdraw.

The Kurdish forces' statement said they handed control of the city to a newly-established Manbij Military Council, made up mostly of Arab rebel fighters from the town. By day break, at least 10 more Turkish tanks crossed into Syria, Turkey's private Dogan news agency reported. An Associated Press journalist saw three armored vehicles cross the border, followed by a heavy construction vehicle. Explosions reverberated across the border, followed by billowing gray smoke.

It remained unclear whether Turkey-backed Syrian rebels would move against IS-held towns or nearby Kurdish-controlled areas, including the town of Manbij. Turkey's state-run Anadolu agency, reporting from Jarablus, said the Syrian opposition forces were working to secure the town to allow its resident's to return, including defusing explosives inside the town or on roads leading to it. Estimates put the town's population at 25,000.

Turkey's defense minister, Fikri Isik, said Thursday that Turkish forces were securing the area around Jarablus. He said the Turkish-backed operation had two main goals — to secure the Turkish border area and to make sure the Syrian Kurdish forces "are not there."

"It's our right to remain there until" the Ankara-backed Syrian opposition forces take control of the area, Isik said. He said Turkey and the U.S. have agreed that the Syrian Kurdish forces would pull out of the northern area around Jarablus within a week.

"For now, the withdrawal hasn't fully taken place. We are waiting for it and following it," he told the private NTV television station. A spokesman for the U.S.-led anti-IS coalition, Col. JD Dorrian, said some members of the force that seized control of Manbij went east of the river, but some remained to secure and clear land mines.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Kurdish forces appeared to be on the move south of the newly captured town of Jarablus, making the potential for all-out confrontation all the more possible overnight. The Kurdish-led group known as the Syria Democratic Forces, or SDF, was advancing south of Jarablus, taking over at least three towns in what appeared to be a push by the Kurdish-led forces to secure Manbij and the river separating it from Jarablus. The advances triggered brief clashes with the Turkish-backed Syrian rebels who had advanced south of Jarablus.

Sharwan Darwish, a spokesperson for the SDF-affiliated Manbij Military Council, said there were no direct confrontations, only warning shots. A Turkish official said he had no immediate comment on the reported clashes.

Meanwhile, U.N. officials said they had received word from Russia that it supports a 48-hour pause in fighting in and around Syria's largest city so that humanitarian aid can be delivered to its increasingly embattled population.

Jan Egeland, who heads up humanitarian aid in the office of the U.N. Syria envoy, said the U.N. now awaits assurances from two rebel groups and written authorization from President Bashar Assad's government before any aid convoys can go through to Aleppo amid an upsurge in fighting that has left the city nearly surrounded by Russian-backed Syrian troops.

Egeland said Russia backs a three-point U.N. plan that is to involve separate road convoys of aid delivered both from Damascus and across the Turkish border through the critical Castello Road artery into Aleppo.

"We are very hopeful that it will be a very short time until we can roll," Egeland told reporters.

El Deeb reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Mucahit Ceylan in Karkamis, Philip Issa and Zeina Karam in Beirut, and Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report.

Turkey says operation launched to free IS-held Syrian town

August 24, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey's prime minister's office says the Turkish military and the U.S.-backed coalition forces have launched an operation to clear a Syrian border town from Islamic State militants.

The Prime Ministry said the operation launched early Wednesday by the Turkish military and the U.S.-led coalition warplanes aimed to free the IS-held town of Jarablus. The state-run Anadolu Agency says the operation began at 4 a.m. with Turkish artillery launching intense fire on Jarablus followed by Turkish warplanes bombing IS targets in the town.

It's not clear if any Turkish or Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces have crossed the border. The agency says the operation aims to clear Turkey's border of "terror organizations" and increase border security. It says the aim also is to "prioritize and support" Syria's territorial integrity.

Turkey in cross-border operation to free IS-held Syrian town

August 24, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey's and the U.S.-backed coalition forces on Wednesday launched an operation to clear a Syrian border town from Islamic State militants, the office of the Turkish prime minister said.

The operation began at 4 a.m. (0100 GMT), with Turkish artillery launching intense cross-border fire on the town of Jarablus, followed by Turkish warplanes bombing IS targets in the town, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

It was not immediately clear if any Turkish or Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces crossed the border to take part in the operation. The news agency said the operation aims to clear Turkey's border of "terror organizations" and increase border security, as well as "prioritize and support" Syria's territorial integrity. The assault followed Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlet Cavusolgu pledge on Tuesday of "every kind" of support for operations against IS along a 100-kilometer (62-mile) stretch of Syrian frontier.

The development puts the NATO member on track for a confrontation with U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria, who have been the most effective force against IS and who are eyeing the same territory. Cavusolgu said Turkey would support twin operations stretching from the Syrian town of Afrin in the northwest, which is already controlled by Kurdish forces, to Jarablus, in the central north, which is held by the Islamic State group.

Earlier, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said some 500 Syrian rebels were massed on the Turkish side of the border in preparation for an assault, including local fighters from Jarablus. One rebel at the border told the BBC the number was as high as 1,500 fighters.

The Syrian town of Jarablus, which lies on the western bank of the Euphrates River where it crosses from Turkey into Syria, is one of the last important IS-held towns standing between Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Syria.

Located 20 miles (33 kilometers) from the town of Manbij, which was liberated from IS by Kurdish-led forces earlier this month, taking control of Jarablus and the IS-held town of al-Bab to the south would be a significant step toward linking up border areas under Kurdish control east and west of the Euphrates River.

In recent days Turkey has increased security measures on its border with Syria, deploying tanks and armored personnel carriers. On Tuesday, residents of the Turkish town of Karkamis, across the border from Jarablus, were told to evacuate after three mortars believed to be fired by IS militants landed there, Turkey's Dogan news agency said.

Turkey has vowed to fight IS militants at home and to "cleanse" the group from its borders after a weekend suicide bombing at a Kurdish wedding in southern Turkey killed at least 54 people, many of them children. Turkish officials have blamed IS for the attack.

Ankara is also concerned about the growing power of U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces, who it says are linked to Kurdish groups waging an insurgency in southeastern Turkey. The Kurdish-led group known as the Syria Democratic Forces, or SDF, recaptured Manbij from IS earlier this month, triggering concerns in Ankara that Kurdish forces would seize the entire border strip with Turkey. The U.S. says it has embedded some 300 special forces with the SDF, and British special forces have also been spotted advising the group.

Syrian activists, meanwhile, said that hundreds of Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters were gathered in the Turkish border area near Karkamis in preparation for an attack on Jarablus. Nasser Haj Mansour, an SDF official on the Syrian side of the border, said the fighters gathering in Turkey include "terrorists" as well as Turkish special forces. He declined to comment on whether the SDF would send fighters to the town, but an SDF statement said the Syrian Kurdish force was "prepared to defend the country against any plans for a direct or indirect occupation."

The reports and rhetoric appeared to set up a confrontation between the SDF, the most effective U.S. proxy in Syria, and NATO ally Turkey. Abdel-Sattar al-Jader, a rebel commander affiliated with the SDF was killed late Monday, shortly after broadcasting a statement announcing the formation of the so-called Jarablus Military Council and vowing to protect civilians in Jarablus from Turkish "aggression."

Al-Jader had pledged to resist Turkish efforts to take control of the city and warned Ankara against further aggression. The Jarablus Military Council blamed the killing on Turkish security agents. The Kurds' outsized role in the Syrian civil war is a source of concern for the Syrian government as well. Fierce clashes erupted between the two sides over control of the northeastern province of Hasakeh last week, and Syrian warplanes bombed Kurdish positions for the first time, prompting the U.S. to scramble its jets to protect American troops in the area.

The Syrian government and the Kurds agreed on a cease-fire Tuesday, six days after the clashes erupted. The Kurdish Hawar News Agency said government forces agreed to withdraw from Hasakeh as part of the truce.

Syrian state media did not mention any withdrawal, saying only that the two sides had agreed to evacuate the wounded and exchange detainees. Government and Kurdish forces have shared control of Hasakeh since the early years of the Syrian war.

Issa reported from Beirut.

Turkey's IHH to provide humanitarian aid to 400,000 people in Syria's Aleppo

August 22, 2016

Chairman of Turkey’s Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) Bulent Yildirim said his organisation plans to provide aid to some 400,000 civilians in the Syrian city of Aleppo after opposition factions were able to lift a siege imposed by the regime forces nearly two weeks ago.

In an interview with Turkey’s Anadolu news agency, Yildirim said the organisation will deliver 100- 150 thousand loaves of bread to Aleppo every day.

“We have started a campaign in this regard. In the first phase we will send 300 trucks of flour and we hope to deliver food parcels to 400,000 people,” he said.

Yildirim said the need for assistance is high in the city, with people also needing items such as diapers and detergents to stop the spread of disease.

Yildirim expected a higher need during the Eid al-Adha holiday in a few weeks.

“Aleppo has been exposed to aerial and ground bombings. Most of the buildings in the city were destroyed while the lack of equipment makes it more difficult to save people from under the rubble,” he said.

He added: “There are ambulances in some hospitals, but they are not sufficient. The regime forces do not want even to rescue the wounded. They force people to starve and depress them with these attacks.”

Yildirim said: “We continue to send aid to Aleppo. In the first phase we sent flour, vegetables, fruits and food parcels. We also provided flour to some bakeries in the city but they stopped working.”

Yildirim stressed that there is a need for everything and not only food, including ambulances and medical equipment, as well as the restoration of destroyed hospitals.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160822-turkeys-ihh-to-provide-humanitarian-aid-to-400000-people-in-syrias-aleppo/.

Officials: 30 killed, 94 hurt in wedding attack in Turkey

August 20, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A bomb attack targeting an outdoor wedding party in southeastern Turkey killed at least 30 people and wounded 94 others, authorities said Sunday. Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek said the "barbaric" attack in the city of Gaziantep, near the border with Syria, on Saturday appeared to be a suicide bombing. Other officials said it could have been the carried out by either Kurdish militants or Islamic State group extremists.

Photos taken after the explosion showed several bodies covered with white sheets as a crowd gathered nearby. The Gaziantep governor's office early Sunday raised the death toll from 22 to 30. It said the number of wounded remained at 94.

Turkey has been rocked by a wave of attacks in the past year that have either been claimed by Kurdish militants linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party — known by its acronym PKK — or were blamed on IS. In June, suspected IS militants attacked Istanbul's main airport with guns and bombs, killing 44 people.

The attack comes as the country is still reeling from last month's failed coup attempt, which the government has blamed on U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen and his followers. Earlier this week, a string of bombings blamed on the PKK that targeted police and soldiers killed at least a dozen people. A fragile, 2 ½ year-long peace process between the PKK and the government collapsed last year, leading to a resumption of the three-decade-long conflict.

Simsek, interviewed on NTV television, said, "This was a barbaric attack. It appears to be a suicide attack. All terror groups, the PKK, Daesh, the (Gulen movement) are targeting Turkey. But God willing, we will overcome." Daesh is an Arabic name for the IS group.

Simsek later traveled to Gaziantep along with the country's health minister to visit the wounded and inspect the site of the attack. "This is a massacre of unprecedented cruelty and barbarism," he told reporters in Gaziantep. "We ... are united against all terror organizations. They will not yield."

He told reporters it was too soon to say which organization was behind the attack. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim condemned the bombing that turned "a wedding party into a place of mourning" and vowed to prevail over the "devilish" attacks.

"No matter what this treacherous terror organization is called, we as the people, the state, and the government will pursue our determined struggle against it," he said. A brief statement from the Gaziantep governor's office said the bomb attack on the wedding in the Sahinbey district occurred at 10:50 p.m.

Mehmet Tascioglu, a local journalist, told NTV television, that the huge explosion could be heard in many parts of the city. Police sealed off the site of the explosion and forensic teams moved in. Hundreds of residents gathered near the site chanting "Allah is great" as well as slogans denouncing attacks.

Taliban appoint new military chief as new leader settles in

August 30, 2016

ISLAMABAD (AP) — The Taliban have appointed a new military chief as the insurgents try to gain ground rather than talk peace under a new leadership, Taliban officials said in telephone interviews over the weekend.

They said that the appointment of Mullah Ibrahim Sadar, once a close ally of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammed Omar, heralds a commitment to confrontation at a time when multiple governments are trying to coax the Taliban to the negotiating table.

Sadar is a battle-hardened commander, who gained prominence among Taliban foot soldiers following the movement's overthrow in 2001. The two officials both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly for the Taliban.

Sadar's appointment coincides with an uptick in Taliban attacks against Afghan security forces. The United States has sent additional troops to Afghanistan's southern Helmand province, where its capital, Lashkar Gah, is under pressure. The provincial council head Kareem Atal earlier said roughly 80 percent of Helmand is already under Taliban control.

So far this month, Taliban fighters have attacked Afghan security forces in northern Kunduz province, briefly taking control of a district headquarters. The militants also overran a district in northern Baghlan province and in eastern Paktia province. Meanwhile, in eastern Nangarhar province, Taliban militants are fighting pitched battles with security forces. Afghanistan's Ministry of Defense says its security forces are waging operations in 15 provinces.

Mohammad Akbari a member of Afghanistan's High Peace Council, which is tasked with talking peace with insurgent groups, said there has been no progress in talks since Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed in a U.S. drone strike in May in Pakistan. Mansour was succeeded by Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, and the notorious Haqqani network gained a prominent role in the leadership structure.

"I can't see any green light toward peace by the Taliban for Afghanistan and instead we have seen an increase in their fighting in the provinces," Akbari told The Associated Press. Since Mansour's death, Pakistan's Interior Ministry has launched a stepped-up campaign to verify the identity of roughly 1.5 million Afghans living in Pakistan, many possessing Pakistani identity cards, some legally obtained and others illegally acquired. Mansour was carrying a Pakistani passport and identity card under an alias.

The crackdown has resulted in the withdrawal of thousands of suspicious identity cards. Pakistan's Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that in the last four years, roughly 80,000 suspicious identity cards have been revoked. He didn't have a figure of the number of cards withdrawn in the latest campaign.

Taliban officials say their fighters, whose families are living in Pakistan, are getting caught up in the crackdown — forcing them to find shelter in Afghanistan. The officials said as a result, in order to accommodate their fighters, they need to expand their territory for practical reasons in addition to their standing military goals.

Pakistan has been bitterly criticized by the Afghan government for not doing more to arrest and expel Taliban fighters from its territory — particularly the Haqqani network, which is blamed by Afghanistan for many of the most brutal attacks. Pakistan, meanwhile, has carried out military operations in its tribal regions that border Afghanistan, and accuses Afghanistan of harboring its own Taliban insurgents who have been carrying out attacks in Pakistan.

Following last week's militant attack on the American University in Kabul, the Afghan government sent three telephone numbers to Pakistan's military, believed to belong to those involved in planning the attack, seeking Pakistan's assistance in tracking down and arresting the culprits. The assault killed 13 people and wounded dozens more.

Associated Press Writers Rahim Faiez and Amir Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.

Syrian rebels make gains in northern Hama province, capture strategic town

Tue Aug 30, 2016

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

Syrian rebels have captured a strategic town in northern Hama province in a major offensive that threatens government loyalist towns populated by minority Christians and Alawites north of the provincial capital, rebels and a monitor said on Tuesday.

The town of Halfaya was stormed on Monday after the hardline jihadist Jund al-Aqsa alongside Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigades launched a battle overnight that overran several army and pro-government checkpoints in northern Hama countryside.

The town, which is near a main road that links the coastal areas with the Aleppo-Damascus highway is only a few kilometers from the historic Christian town of Mahrada to the west.

"We are now cleansing the town after liberating it from the regime and will have more surprises in store," said Abu Kinan, a commander in Jaish al Ezza, a rebel group that fought in the town.

A rapid collapse in government defenses allowed the rebels to also take a string of villages including Buwaydah, Zalin and Masassnah. They were threatening Taybat al Imam to the east of Halfaya.

The offensive brought them closer to the army stronghold of Soran, the army's northern gateway to the city of Hama, the provincial capital.

A Syrian military source said airstrikes conducted by the army killed dozens of rebels and would neither deny nor confirm Halfaya had fallen to rebels. Pro-government websites said the army was sending reinforcements to retake these towns.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which confirmed the fall of the town, said jets believed to be Syrian struck rebel outposts in the area, killing at least 20 rebels.

The militant Jund al-Aqsa group deployed suicide bombers to storm army checkpoints.

Jaish al Ezza threatened in a statement to hit the Mahrada power plant near the town, one of Syria's largest, if civilians areas in rebel-held areas were bombed in retaliation.

The rebel offensive comes after weeks of heavy Russian and Syrian army bombing of rebel controlled Hama and southern Idlib countryside that rebels say has claimed dozens of civilian lives.

Syrian army offensives backed by heavy Russian air strikes to retake territory from rebels in the Hama countryside have had limited success.

The latest gains will consolidate rebels who captured at the end of last year the strategic town of Morek, north of Hama city on a major north-south highway crucial to control of western Syria.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Source: Reuters.
Link: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-rebels-idUSKCN115025.

Clashes subside in Syria between Turkish, Kurdish forces

August 30, 2016

BEIRUT (AP) — Clashes between Turkey's military and Kurdish-backed Syrian forces subsided Tuesday evening after days of fighting between the two had frustrated efforts by a U.S.-led coalition to drive the Islamic State group from northern Syria.

Western officials had expressed alarm that the fighting between the two sides, both backed by the U.S. in Syria's 5-year-old civil war, has diverted their attention from the fight against the extremist group.

In a speech Tuesday, French President Francois Hollande criticized Turkey for targeting Kurdish and Kurdish-backed fighters in Syria, while a top U.S. general ordered the sides to stop fighting one another and focus instead on the Islamic State.

Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of the U.S. Central Command, told Pentagon reporters that the U.S. was striving to separate the parties. The Kurdish-backed Jarablus Military Council said in a statement it had agreed to a cease-fire with the Turkish military in a disputed area in north central Syria after lengthy consultations with the coalition.

The Pentagon denied reports it was monitoring a cease-fire but said Turkish forces had moved to the west, while Kurdish forces had moved east of the Euphrates River, per the insistence of Turkish and U.S. authorities.

"We welcome the calm between the Turkish military and other counter-ISIL forces in Syria," Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said. "We encourage these moves as a way to prevent further hostilities and loss of life between all counter-ISIL forces operating in the area."

Cook said the coalition is establishing communication channels "for de-conflicting operations and maneuvers in this crowded battlespace." The Britain-based Syrian Observer for Human Rights monitoring group, which relies on contacts inside Syria, said a tense calm had prevailed in the area Tuesday evening.

Turkey's military said three of its soldiers were wounded in northern Syria when their tank was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. A statement said "terrorists" fired the rocket west of Jarablus, where Turkish troops have been fighting Kurdish-led forces after Turkey's Aug. 24 incursion into Syria.

One Turkish soldier was killed and three were wounded in fighting Saturday. The tough talk from Washington and Paris came as a spokesman for the Kurdish-led forces in Syria said IS militants carried out a two-pronged attack on villages south and west of the former militant stronghold of Manbij, taking advantage of the clashes between his forces and Turkey-backed Syrian rebels.

In Paris, Hollande said "multiple, contradictory interventions carry the risk of a general inflammation" of the fighting that has devastated Syria. He said he could understand Turkey's concern about protecting its borders and fighting the Islamic State group, but he criticized Ankara's actions against Kurdish rebels allied with the coalition fighting the extremists. France is part of the coalition.

Hollande also urged Russia to cooperate with the coalition and said he would invite President Vladimir Putin to France in October, noting Moscow should be "a player in negotiations, not a protagonist in the action."

He said Syrian President Bashar Assad's government uses Russian military support to carry out bombings of civilians, which "plays into the hands of extremists". "The absolute urgency is a halt to fighting and a return to negotiations," Hollande said. He also called for an "immediate truce" in Aleppo, a main battlefield of the war.

The Kurdish-led forces seized Manbij from IS earlier this month after a 10-week campaign. Last week, Turkey sent its troops and warplanes to back Syrian rebels in their advance on Jarablus, a town near the Turkish border and the next IS-stronghold after Manbij. That prompted clashes between the two U.S.-allies — Syrian rebels and Kurdish fighters. Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish forces an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, a domestic group it deems a terrorist organization.

Shervan Darwish, a spokesman for the Manbij Military Council, part of the U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syria Democratic Forces, said the militants used at least three car bombs Tuesday. The SDF, aided by coalition airstrikes, repelled the attack initially, but Darwish said clashes continued. In a statement on Twitter, IS said it had seized two villages.

"The Turkish occupation of parts of Syria hampers the war against terrorism, and by targeting us (the Turkey-backed forces) gave Daesh the space to reorganize its ranks and attack us," Darwish told The Associated Press, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

Turkish troops and the rebels they are backing are "aiming for our troops, not Daesh," he added. Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic said U.S. criticism of the scope and aims of its offensive in northern Syria is "unacceptable" and that it has summoned the U.S. ambassador over the issue.

Bilgic demanded that Washington live up to its assurances that the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, withdraw to the east of the Euphrates "as soon as possible." Turkey's president has vowed to press ahead with the military operation until IS and Kurdish Syrian fighters no longer threaten his country. In comments published Tuesday in the pro-government Daily Sabah newspaper, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin urged U.S. officials to "revise their policy of supporting (the Kurdish-led force) at all costs."

The Kurdish-led forces "are shamelessly using the war in Syria to create a de facto terrorist state in Syria," the spokesman wrote. "Turkey will not allow that." In recent months, the U.S.-led allied Kurdish forces gained control of most of the territory along the Turkey-Syria border, reinforcing the ethnic group's aspirations for a contiguous autonomous region there.

Turkey appears determined to create a "safe zone" free of IS and the Kurds near its border. The Turkish military said Turkey-backed Syrian rebels — a mix of Islamist rebel factions — have cleared several villages of "terrorist entities" and now control an area of about 400 square kilometers (150 square miles) south and west of Jarablus.

Turkish-backed rebels posted video of their troops praying and walking in captured villages north of Manbij, across the Sajour River, a tributary of the Euphrates. Darwish said SDF forces have pulled back to south of the Sajour and into the Manbij area, a move unlikely to be accepted by Turkey, which wants them to withdraw completely east of the Euphrates.

He accused Turkey of targeting civilians and said Turkey-backed rebels shelled a village south of Jarablus, killing at least five. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said five people were killed by shelling in the village of al-Dandanieh, in rural Manbij. The Observatory said it was not clear who was behind the shelling.

Stojanovic contributed to this report from Istanbul. Associated Press writers Philip Issa in Beirut, Sylvie Corbet in Paris, and Wendy Benjaminson in Washington contributed to this report.

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels advance towards Manbij

30 August 2016 Tuesday

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels say they are now advancing towards Manbij in northern Syria, a city captured earlier this month by Kurdish forces, as the US condemned the weekend clashes between the sides as "unacceptable".

Turkey's military said on Monday that the Ankara-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) had cleared fighters from 10 more villages in northern Syria, as part of a cross-border offensive that had already captured a string of settlements south of the Syrian frontier town of Jarablus.

The statement did not say whether these fighters belonged to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group or Kurdish forces.

"After seizing control of the border town of Jarablus, the FSA fighters moved under Turkish air cover to control villages such as Amarna, Yousef Beq and Ain al-Baida within hours," Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Gaziantep on the Turkish side of the Syria-Turkey border, said.

"But their main target is to take over Manbij," he said. "YPG fighters maintain a significant presence along that area with their local allies."

Just weeks ago, Kurdish and Arab fighters, backed by US coalition air strikes, drove ISIL fighters out of Manbij after months of fighting.

Turkish forces have been pressing on with a two-pronged operation inside Syria against ISIL (also known as ISIS) fighters and the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) since Wednesday, shelling more than a dozen targets.

"Taking on the YPG is a risk for the Turkish government," said our correspondent. "The Kurdish group is a crucial ally for the US in its fight against ISIL in Syria."

Meanwhile, the US Department of Defense condemned the clashes between Turkish forces and the YPG on Monday, calling them "unacceptable".

Ankara said it had killed 25 Kurdish "terrorists" in strikes on YPG positions on Sunday, a day after a Turkish soldier died in a rocket attack it blamed on Kurdish forces

On Monday, the Pentagon called the clashes "unacceptable" and urged an immediate de-escalation.

"We want to make clear that we find these clashes - in areas where ISIL is not located - unacceptable and a source of deep concern," said Brett McGurk, US special envoy for the fight against ISIL, also known as ISIS.

"We call on all armed actors to stand down," he wrote on Twitter, citing a US Department of Defense statement.

Later on Monday, Ash Carter, the US defense secretary, urged Turkey to not target Kurdish elements of Syrian rebels.

"We have called upon Turkey ... to stay focused on the fight against ISIL and not to engage Syrian Defense Forces, and we've had a number of contacts over the last several days," Carter told reporters.

Turkey's operation aims to push the YPG back across the Euphrates River to prevent it from joining up the region east of the river already under its control with a Kurdish-held area to the west.

US Vice President Joe Biden, visiting Ankara last week, said Washington had told the YPG to go back across the Euphrates or risk losing American support.

After Biden's warning, Kurdish officials seemed to have acceded to Turkish demands and said they withdrew the YPG forces from Manbij.

"The YPG said they have withdrawn to the East," said Al Jazeera's Ahelbarra. "But activists on the ground doubt that."

Ankara also said it had seen no evidence of this.

'Ethnic cleansing'

Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey's foreign minister, said on Monday the YPG "needs to cross east of the Euphrates as soon as possible. So long as they don't, they will be a target.

"In the places where it has moved, the YPG forces everyone out - including Kurds - who do not think like it does and carries out ethnic cleansing," he added.

Cavusoglu said the ethnic composition of the area around the city of Manbij was largely Arab.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus on Monday also confirmed one of the key aims of Turkey's operation in northern Syria was to prevent the creation of a corridor stretching from Iraq to the verge of the Mediterranean controlled by the YPG.

"If that happens, it means Syria has been divided," he was quoted as saying by Turkish broadcaster NTV.

He added that all relevant parties had been informed of Turkey's operation in Syria, including the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

But Kurtulmus denied Turkey was at war. "We are not pursuing an aim of becoming a permanent power in Syria. Turkey is not an invader. Turkey is not entering a war."

"It’s unclear whether Turkish commanders will send ground forces all the way to Manbij to help the FSA take control of the city or only provide air cover, said Al Jazeera's Ahelbarra.

"Either way, the conflict has become deepened with multiple frontlines and agendas at play."

Source: al-Jazeera.
Link: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/08/turkish-backed-syrian-rebels-advance-manbij-160829154225197.html.

Kurdish-led Syria forces face off with Turkish-backed rebels

August 27, 2016

BEIRUT (AP) — Backed by Turkish tanks and reports of airstrikes, Turkey-allied Syrian rebels clashed with Kurdish-led forces in northeastern Syria in a new escalation that further complicates the already protracted Syrian conflict.

Turkey's military didn't specify what the airstrikes hit, saying only that "terror groups" were targeted south of the village of Jarablus, where the clashes later ensued. A Kurdish-affiliated group said their forces were the target and called the attack an "unprecedented and dangerous escalation." If confirmed, it would be the first Turkish airstrikes against Kurdish allied forces on Syrian soil.

Late Saturday night, Turkey's official news agency reported that one Turkish solider had been killed and three wounded by what it said was a Kurdish rocket attack in Jarablus, near where the fighting has raged. It is the first reported Turkish fatality in Syria.

The new escalation highlights concerns that Turkey's incursion into Syria this week could lead to an all-out confrontation between Ankara and Syrian Kurds, both American allies, and hinder the war against the Islamic State group by diverting resources.

Sherwan Darwish, a spokesman for Kurdish-led forces in the village of Manbij, said on Twitter Saturday night: "While our forces fighting #IS Some #Turkey backed militias r attacking our positions & hampering our & Intl Coalition's fight against terror."

The clashes underscore Ankara's determination to push back Kurdish forces from along its borders, and curb their ambitions to form a contiguous entity in northern Syria. Kurdish groups have already declared a semi-autonomous administration in Syria and control most of the border area.

Jarablus, and Manbij to the south liberated from IS fighters by Kurdish-led forces earlier this month, are essential to connecting the western and eastern semi-autonomous Kurdish areas in Syria. Turkish officials said they will continue their offensive in Syria until there is no longer any "terror" threat to Turkey from its war-torn neighbor. Ankara backed Syrian rebels to gain control of Jarablus last week. They are now pushing their way south.

On Saturday, the Syrian rebels said they have seized a number of villages south of Jarablus from IS militants and Kurdish forces. Clashes were fiercest with the Kurdish-allied forces over the village of Amarneh, eight kilometers (five miles) south of Jarablus.

The media office of the Turkish-backed Nour el-din el-Zinki rebel group said the Syrian rebels were backed by Turkish tanks. A news report on ANHA, the news agency for the semi-autonomous Kurdish areas, said local fighters destroyed a Turkish tank and killed a number of fighters in an attack by the Turkish military and allied groups on Amnarneh.

There was no immediate comment from Turkish officials. The clashes were preceded by Turkish airstrikes against bases of Kurdish-affiliated forces and residential areas at Amarneh. The Jarablus Military Council, affiliated with the U.S-backed Kurdish-led Syria Democratic Forces, said the Turkish airstrikes marked an "unprecedented and dangerous escalation" that "endangers the future of the region."

It vowed to stand its ground. Other groups which are part of the SDF vowed to support them, calling on the U.S-led coalition to explain the Turkish attacks on allied forces. Turkey's state news agency, citing military sources, said the Turkish Military Joint Special Task Forces and coalition airplanes targeted an ammunition depot and a barrack and outpost used as command centers by "terror groups" south of Jarablus Saturday morning. The Anadolu Agency did not say which group or village was targeted.

Turkey has long suspected the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, of being linked to Kurdish insurgents in its own southeast, which it labels as a terror group. It has demanded the YPG, which makes up the bulk of the SDF and has been one of the most effective U.S. ally in the fight against IS, withdraw to the east bank of the Euphrates River.

The U.S. supported Turkey's call for the Kurdish forces to move back, and Kurdish officials said they withdrew the YPG forces from Manbij. But following the Turkish offensive, local forces with Kurdish fighters and backed by YPG advisers pushed their way north of Manbij, in a rush for control of Jarablus.

Meanwhile, the U.N. special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, appealed to the opposition to approve plans to deliver aid to rebel-held eastern Aleppo and government-held Aleppo through a government-controlled route north of Aleppo during a 48-hour humanitarian pause.

Aleppo has been caught in a bloody circle of violence, with rebels and government forces each promising to unite the divided city. The U.N. said it has pre-positioned aid ready for delivery into Aleppo, to reach 80,000 people on the rebel side and some on the government side. But the opposition, whose fighters have opened another route in the south, were wary of the use of the government-controlled route.

"People are suffering and need assistance. Time is of the essence. All must put the civilian population of Aleppo first and exert their influence now," de Mistura said in a statement, urging an approval by Sunday.

But violence raged. Suspected government helicopters dropped two barrel bombs on a wake held for children killed a few days earlier, killing at least 15, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Aleppo Media Center, an activist group in the city, and volunteers on the scene put the death toll higher at 24. Mohammed Khandakani, a hospital volunteer, said one of the injured told him a barrel bomb was dropped in the Bab al-Nairab neighborhood as people paid their condolences for children killed Thursday in an airstrike that left 11 children dead in the same neighborhood. Minutes later, Khandakani said another barrel bomb was dropped, injuring an ambulance driver, and hampering rescue efforts.

The Syrian government and its Russian ally are the only ones operating helicopters over Aleppo. The government denies it uses barrel bombs. Elsewhere, the Syrian government said it now has full control of the Damascus suburb of Daraya, following the completion of a forced evacuation deal struck with the government that emptied the area of its remaining rebels and residents and ended a four-year siege and grueling bombing campaign.

The declaration comes a day after the evacuation of nearly 5,000 residents and fighters from the suburb began. The deal followed an extensive government campaign of aerial bombing and shelling of Daraya, the last bastion against President Bashar Assad in the western Ghouta region, southwest of Damascus.

Some 700 gunmen and 4,000 civilians were evacuated. The gunmen and their families headed to the northern rebel-controlled Idlib province. Other civilians were escorted to shelters in government-controlled suburbs of Damascus.

Associated Press writer Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria and Dusan Stojanovic in Istanbul contributed to this report.

Syria: Evacuation of Daraya begins in deal to end siege

27 August 2016 Saturday

The first buses carrying residents and rebel fighters left the Damascus suburb of Daraya on Friday under a deal that will see the area evacuated after a four-year siege by government forces.

Aid convoys arranged by the medical charity Red Crescent entered the suburb early on Friday, as part of the deal that grants control of the area to government forces.

Rebel fighters and government forces agreed to a deal on Thursday to evacuate the town, which pro-government forces have surrounded since 2012. Since then, only one aid shipment has reached the area, according to the United Nations.

Residents were suffering from severe shortages and malnutrition prior to the aid deliveries, according to local activists.

A Reuters news agency witness saw six buses leaving the town, and footage on state television showed buses carefully driving past a large group of soldiers through streets lined with rubble.

The Syrian opposition criticized the evacuation, saying that the international community had failed the people of Daraya.

"Daraya did not fail today," George Sabra of the opposition peace talks team told DPA news agency. "It was the international community who failed, and failed the people of Daraya."

Sources told Al Jazeera that about 8,000 civilians and 800 rebels would be evacuated from the Damascus suburb, which, before the war, was home to a quarter of a million people.

Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Gaziantep on the Turkish side of the Syria-Turkey border, said the rebels were "forced to sign the deal".

"For nearly four years, residents of Daraya have lived under siege, with civilians being starved to death by government forces. This is a deal that the rebels had to sign, and we will now see civilians moved to Sahnaya - a town in the Damascus governorate - under regime control," he said.

UN 'not consulted' on deal

The UN, which has repeatedly called for the lifting of the siege, said it was "not involved and not consulted in this deal", in a statement put out by the UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura's office.

De Mistura, who met with the US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Friday, said the situation in Daraya was "extremely grave and tragic" and that "the repeated appeals to lift the siege of Daraya have not been headed".

Reporting from Geneva, Al Jazeera's diplomatic editor James Bays said the Syrian government's "starvation of surrender policy has actually worked because they have now managed to close down Daraya and remove everyone from Daraya".

Rebel forces from Daraya will be taken to the northern province of Idlib, held by the Army of Conquest, a coalition of armed anti-government groups.

The rebels who controlled Daraya belonged to two rebel groups: Ajnad al-Sham and the Martyrs of Islam, groups allied with the Army of Conquest.

However, activists told Al Jazeera that they were extremely concerned over the safety of civilians, many of whom are relatives of the rebels, as the government offered little to no guarantee.

'A major setback'

Speaking to Al Jazeera from Jordan, advocacy adviser Chairman Mohamed of the Norwegian Refugee Council said although the end of hostiles in the town was a positive step, her team was "concerned about the protection of civilians" and that any evacuations "should be voluntary in nature".

"There should be absolutely unfettered humanitarian access, and civilians should be protected, according to international humanitarian law".

Some opposition groups also criticized the deal, calling it a major setback as Sunnis would be forced from their homes, further fracturing the country along sectarian lines.

"This is a pattern by the government to push Sunnis out of communities they control and have been living in for decades. In 2015, there was a similar deal in Zabadani on the outskirts of the capital," our correspondent added.

In 2012, several hundred people were killed in Daraya, including civilians, many execution-style, when security forces stormed the suburb after locals took up arms.

According to the UN, nearly 600,000 live under siege across Syria, most surrounded by government forces.

In several places, lengthy government sieges have prompted rebels to agree to evacuation deals with the regime, leading activists to accuse Damascus of using "starve or surrender" tactics.

Earlier this year, de Mistura estimated that 400,000 people had died throughout the last five years.

The UN no longer keeps track of the death toll due to the inaccessibility of many areas and the complications of navigating conflicting statistics put forward by the Syrian government and armed opposition groups.

Source: al-Jazeera.
Link: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/08/syria-aid-convoys-enter-daraya-deal-siege-160826084006363.html.

Turkish soldiers welcomed warmly in Jarabulus

26 August 2016 Friday

The Turkish soldiers have been warmly welcomed by Free Syrian Army (FSA) soldiers and residents of Jarabulus, after they regained Jarabulus from the ISIL extremists in the Euphrates Shield operation conducted with the support of the Turkish army.

The soldiers met the FSA soldiers as a group of soldiers, led by the Special Forces Commander Zekai Aksakalli, went to Jarabulus to check the latest status of the region.

Turkish soldiers offered Turkish delights to the FSA soldiers and a FSA commander hugged Aksakalli to show his gratefulness to the Turkish army.

Meanwhile, ten more tanks were sent into Syria from the Karkamis town of Gaziantep, where the tanks are located on the second day of the Euphrates Shield operation.

After the tanks were sent into Syria, 15 tanks departed from Istanbul to reach Gaziantep along with a number of armored cars.

The visit came after the operation in which one opposition fighter was killed, while none of the Turkish soldiers fell martyr.

ISIL were pulled out from Jarabulus and deployed in al-Bab town.

Turkey-supported success 'disappointment for PYD'

Turkey's operation was a disappointment for Saleh Muslim, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) leader.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition largely composed of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)-affiliated People's Protection Units (YPG), said that it will cross back to the east side of the Euphrates River.

The bulk of the SDF were deployed in Menbij town after crossing west of the Euphrates River, which Ankara has stated as its red line. Also U.S. Vice President Joe Biden confirmed YPG will withdraw back to the east of the Euphrates River.

However, recent reports reveal that the Turkish Army is responding to PYD attacks with artillery fire, as it tries to gain new ground, despite U.S assurances that PYD units were moving to the east bank of the Euphrates River.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/news/176662/turkish-soldiers-welcomed-warmly-in-jarabulus.

Syrian rebels seize town of Jarablus from Islamic State

By Andrew V. Pestano
Aug. 25, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey, Aug. 25 (UPI) -- Syrian rebels on Thursday said they seized the border town of Jarablus from Islamic State control shortly after Turkey launched a cross-border offensive.

The Free Syrian Army's assault on the city began at dawn and was later aided by U.S. airstrikes, as well as Turkish warplanes, tanks and special forces soldiers who crossed into Syria on Wednesday.

Up to 12 Turkish tanks crossed into Syria, followed by pick-up trucks believed to be holding hundreds of fighters from the Free Syrian Army.

"Jarablus can now be considered fully liberated," Ahmed Othman, a commander in the Free Syrian Army, told Al Jazeera.

Militants fighting for the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, Daesh and ISIL, seem to have fled southwest toward IS-held al-Bab, a militia spokesman told Al Jazeera. "The attack started in the morning and we were able to take control of a number of villages near the town. After a few hours and after controlling the hills surrounding the town, ISIL felt the danger," the spokesman said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey's military efforts in Syria target both the Islamic State and Kurdish militia fighters, some of which are backed by the United States.

The southern provinces of Turkey this year have faced increased rocket attacks and indiscriminate civilian bombings mainly carried out by the Islamic State, but also from Turkish rebels. Most recently, 54 people were killed in a Gaziantep wedding bombing where about half of the victims -- 29 -- were children. The Islamic State is blamed for carrying out the bombing.

Meanwhile, Turkish and U.S. officials on Thursday said Kurdish-led forces in Syria have partially withdrawn to the area east of the Euphrates River.

The move follows U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's threat to withdraw U.S. support of the forces if the Kurds do not remove themselves from areas where Turkey said they pose a threat to national security. Turkey and Kurdish rebels have fought for decades over the Kurds' drive for independence.

Source: United Press International (UPI).
Link: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2016/08/25/Syrian-rebels-seize-town-of-Jarablus-from-Islamic-State/2771472122617/.

In Jordan, schools to open doors to all Syrian children

September 02, 2016

ZARQA, Jordan (AP) — Intissar Ghozlan's two youngest boys haven't been in school since the family fled from Syria to Jordan two years ago. There's no space in local classrooms, and the boys, 12 and 14, can "barely write their names," having forgotten most of what they learned back home, she says.

More than 90,000 Syrian refugee children in Jordan weren't able to attend school last year, along with hundreds of thousands in neighboring refugee host countries, prompting warnings of a "lost generation" as a result of Syria's five-year-old civil war.

That's now changing, at least in Jordan. Boosted by international funding, the kingdom has promised to make room for all refugee children in its schools, starting this week, by adding more afternoon shifts and hiring thousands of teachers.

For many children, this could be their last chance, said Robert Jenkins, the Jordan representative of UNICEF, the U.N. children's agency. "At a certain point, it becomes next to impossible for a child to realize its potential, if they have been out of school that long," he said.

The back-to-school program "not only will have a great impact on individual children, but on the population as a whole and on Jordan as a whole and on the future potential rebuilding of Syria," he said.

On Thursday, Hassan al-Ahmed signed up his 9-year-old daughter Aisha and his 7-year-old son Mohammed for first grade in Zarqa, northeast of the capital, Amman. The siblings, who fled Syria with their parents and two younger brothers in 2014, hadn't been able to attend school before, but were told they could register this year.

"The most important thing for me is to have my kids in school," said al-Ahmed, 30, who worked as a farm laborer in Syria and is illiterate. "If my kids don't go to school, they can't do anything in life."

The promise of education for all is part of a broader deal made earlier this year at a watershed conference on Syria aid in London. Jordan pledged to give refugees access to legal work and education, as a way of keeping them in the region and discouraging them from migrating to Europe. In return, donor countries promised hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, concessional financing and trade benefits to pay for the refugee burden and boost Jordan's struggling economy.

Yet the aid is slow to trickle in. Jordan's education minister, Mohammed Thnaibat, said he needs about $1 billion over three years to educate refugee children and ease current overcrowding. The money would pay for doubling the number of schools with second shifts to 200, building 500 more classrooms, hiring 5,000 teachers and building 300 new schools.

Jordan received about $80 million so far for this year, enough to open schools to all, but not enough for keeping the program going for the entire year, he said. "We cannot do this unless we get the grants from the donors and the international organizations who committed themselves that they will pay," the minister said in an interview.

Close to five million Syrian refugees have fled to Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt since 2011. Jordan hosts about 660,000 registered refugees, though the total number of Syrians living there is about twice that figure, according to a census last year.

More than 80 percent of the registered refugees live in Jordanian towns and cities, while the rest settled in three camps, where schools have been established. In the previous school year, about 145,000 refugee children were enrolled in Jordanian schools, while an estimated 91,000 did not attend, according to UNICEF.

In Jordan, lack of classroom space is a major obstacle, along with growing poverty among refugees. More boys are put to work and more girls are married off young to ease the financial burden on their families as the war drags on and refugees' savings run out, aid officials say.

Overall, child labor in Jordan has doubled over the past decade, with refugees making up a significant contingent, according to a recent government report. More than half the Syrian children between the ages of 15 and 17 are out of school, it said.

UNICEF is trying to encourage all school-age children to return to their studies. Jenkins said the plan for this school year is to make space for an additional 50,000 children and enroll another 25,000 — those who've been out of school for at least three years — in catch-up programs.

In the event that more children show up, "we will squeeze them in and provide education to all 91,000," he said. In one of the school districts in Zarqa, 12 out of 163 schools already run double shifts and an additional five will do so in the future, said local education official Khalil Qaisi.

"The instructions are that we have to absorb all the Syrian students in our schools," he said. "We have waiting lists." In the northern city of Irbid, close to the Syrian border, Ghozlan, a mother of six, still hasn't heard if her three school-age children will get an education.

Her 8-year-old daughter Haneen completed first grade in Jordan. But then the family moved to a different neighborhood in Irbid where there was no room for her in the school, said Ghozlan. The boys, 14-year-old Aghiyad and 12-year-old Mohammed, completed second and third grade respectively, before fleeing Syria in 2014, but couldn't get into schools in Jordan.

"It's a tragedy," she said. "My kids can barely write their names. They have forgotten everything." "They see the kids go to school and they cry."

Laub reported from Amman, Jordan. Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed reporting.

Mauritanian jail inmates riot to protest bad conditions

01 September 2016 Thursday

Inmates at Nouakchott’s Al-Qasr Prison rioted for several hours on Wednesday to protest alleged mistreatment by the prison authorities.

According to local security sources, who spoke anonymously due to restrictions on speaking to media, inmates set parts of the prison on fire causing smoke and flames to billow from the facility.

After several hours, prison guards -- using copious amounts of teargas -- managed to contain the riot.

"Security reinforcements arrived immediately to the prison to help control the situation," one security source told Anadolu Agency.

A number of prisoners, the same source said, had suffered temporary asphyxia as a result of teargas inhalation.

In 2015, dozens of inmates at the same prison went on hunger strike following the death of a fellow prisoner during a routine medical operation.

Soon afterward, local media outlets published leaked photos from the facility suggesting that inmates had, in fact, been subjected to ill-treatment by the prison authorities.

In February, Juan E. Mendez, the UN’s special rapporteur on torture, described living conditions for most Mauritanian prison inmates as "inhumane", citing rampant overcrowding, a lack of medical attention and psychological stress.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/176863/mauritanian-jail-inmates-riot-to-protest-bad-conditions.

Fundamentalists gain ground in Algeria as war memory fades

August 20, 2016

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Mosques are going up, women are covering up, and shops selling alcoholic beverages are shutting down in a changing Algeria where, slowly but surely, Muslim fundamentalists are gaining ground.

The North African country won its civil war with extremists who brought Algeria to its knees in the name of Islam during the 1990s. Yet authorities show little overt concern about the growing grip of Salafis, who apply a strict brand of the Muslim faith.

Algerians favoring the trend see it as a benediction, while critics worry that the rise of Salafism, a form of Islam that interprets the Quran literally, may seep deeper into social mores and diminish the chances for a modern Algeria that values freedom of choice.

More than a decade after putting down an insurgency by Islamist extremists, Algerian security forces still combat sporadic incursions by al-Qaida's North African branch. The conflict started in 1991 after the army canceled elections that an Islamist party was poised to win. The violence left an estimated 200,000 dead and divided society.

But authorities are treading lightly in their dealings today with "quietist" Salafis, who eschew politics but are making their mark on this North African nation buffeted by high unemployment — and a far higher lack of confidence in the powers-that-be.

"Thanks to God, Algerian society is returning to its source of identity," commented Said Bahmed, a philosophy professor at the University of Algiers. Bahmed, who is close to the moderate Islamist party Movement for a Peaceful Society, described the growing number of women in Islamic dress as a "benediction."

Algeria's North African neighbors also have been grappling with a new assertiveness from those seeking a greater role for Islam in society, and have folded Islamist parties into their power structures.

In Morocco, where a moderate Islamist party runs the government, women increasingly don veils, especially in working-class neighborhoods. Tunisia's moderate Islamist Ennahda party headed the country's first government after the 2011 revolution and remains strong in parliament, but rebranded itself this year to separate religion from politics. Ennahda's influence did not stop deadly attacks on tourist targets last year claimed by the Islamic State group.

In today's Algeria, the vestiges of 130 years of French colonial rule are falling away, with ardent help from Salafis. Their influence visibly marks the lively capital of Algiers, where alcoholic beverages once were served on terraces, in bars and at restaurants and women dressed as they liked.

Approximately 100 bars and restaurants around Algiers have been shut down over the past decade, 37 of them in the city center, according to the Direction of Commerce of the Wilaya, or region, of Algiers.

Dead leaves are piled up at the locked Claridge bar, a writers' haunt that folded in May. Expiring rental contracts and problems linked to an inheritance are among the reasons officially cited for closing alcohol-serving establishments. Journalist Mohamed Arezki called those pretexts that officials use so they will "be in the good graces of Islamists."

"Authorities' message is to tell the population that ... defense of values of Islam isn't the monopoly of Islamists," Arezki said. "But in this bidding game between the state and Islamists, it is the project of society, of a plural, tolerant Algeria, that is threatened."

Mohamed Ait Oussaid's bar-restaurant in the colonial-style fishing port of La Perouse, on the edge of Algiers, was ordered closed in 2005. The directive ended a business that had been in his family for three generations.

Ait Oussaid said an ex-local chief of the disbanded Islamic Salvation Army campaigned to close the restaurant for the sake of public order. "I found myself with three children and their families all out of work," Ait Oussaid said, condemning "the cowardliness of the state in the face of Islamists."

Political scientist Mohamed Saidj of the University of Algiers agrees, accusing authorities of "backing down under Islamist pressure." "These bars and shops are commerces that create jobs, pay taxes and are part of a balanced society," Saidj said.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, an infirm 79-year-old in his fourth term, is leaving his mark with the construction of the billion-dollar Grand Mosque of Algiers. With its soaring 267-meter- (867 foot-) high minaret, the mosque is being portrayed as a testament to a tolerant Islam.

When completed as expected next year, the mosque will become the world's third largest by area, after those in Mecca, which encloses Islam's holiest shrine, and Medina. While Chinese workers toil on the Grand Mosque, modest places of worship have been sprouting across Algeria, some financed by the state, others by private donors.

Rachid Rezouali, a former police chief, said private funders want "to appear like God's servants in the eyes of the people." He called the changing social landscape "a sign that an Algeria of tolerance and modernity is disappearing."

The U.S. State Department's International Religious Freedom Report for 2015 says volunteer imams at 55 mosques in Algiers were replaced for "spreading Salafism." But the report also noted a social media campaign ahead of last year's Ramadan urging men to avoid retribution by forcing their wives, daughters and sisters to dress according to conservative Islamic values.

No dress-related reprisals happened, perhaps because fashion already has become so prevalent. For sociologist Nacer Djabi, the growing number of women in traditional Muslim garb is a sign that Algeria is reclaiming an identity subverted by more than a century of French rule. But, he added, "Most women suffer it because of pressure from society."

Meziane Ourad, a journalist who fled Algeria after the Armed Islamic Group killed his friend, celebrated writer Tahar Djaout, in 1993, barely recognizes the homeland he left. "It's more than three months I'm back in Algeria, and I haven't seen a bare leg," Ourad said.

Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed to this report.

Uzbek TV figure reads independence speech for ill president

September 01, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — A national newsreader has delivered a televised Independence Day speech on behalf of ailing President Islam Karimov, who remains hospitalized in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, with a suspected brain hemorrhage.

The surprise substitution reflected rising political uncertainty in Uzbekistan, which observed its national holiday Thursday. It was Karimov's first-ever absence from the celebrations. Karimov has run an authoritarian regime in the Central Asian nation since 1989, suppressing opposition and cultivating no apparent successor. He hasn't been seen in public since mid-August, and his government last weekend admitted he was ill. His daughter on Monday said he had suffered a brain hemorrhage.

Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyayev led the start of independence-related events Wednesday. Other events have reportedly been cancelled, including a concert and a fireworks display.

Uzbek PM leads national celebration; president still ill

August 31, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — Uzbekistan's prime minister is leading the nation's Independence Day celebration in the capital of Tashkent amid reports of President Islam Karimov's illness. The government announced Sunday that the 78-year-old Karimov had been hospitalized, and his daughter issued a statement Monday saying he had suffered a brain hemorrhage.

Karimov has run an authoritarian regime in this Central Asian nation since 1989, harshly repressing any opposition and cultivating no apparent successor. On Tuesday, unconfirmed reports claimed that Karimov had already died.

Russian news agencies on Wednesday said the Independence Day celebrations in Tashkent were led by Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyayev, who has been rumored as a possible successor. The uncertainty over Karimov's health raises concerns that Uzbekistan could face prolonged in-fighting among clans over leadership claims, something Islamic radicals could exploit.

What next? Opaque Uzbekistan faces transition anxieties

August 30, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — Whether Uzbekistan's president is at death's door or has already passed through is unclear, but that may not be the greatest uncertainty facing the country — it's what comes after his death.

As independent Uzbekistan's only leader, Islam Karimov has run a monolithic regime, harshly repressing any opposition and cultivating no apparent successor. The government announcement Sunday that the 78-year-old Karimov had been hospitalized, and his daughter's statement that he had suffered a brain hemorrhage, raised concern that the most populous of the ex-Soviet nations in central Asia could face prolonged internecine maneuvering among various clans to take power and that Islamic radicals could exploit the interregnum.

Some Russian analysts meanwhile worried that the United States could try to use a power vacuum to foment "color revolution" protests like those that drove out leaders in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

On Tuesday, unconfirmed reports claimed Karimov had already died. Russian news agencies reported that a major concert planned for the capital Tashkent on Wednesday to celebrate the 25th anniversary of independence from the Soviet Union had been called off -- a possible echo of the Soviet practice of cancelling entertainment to signal a leader's demise.

"It's a place that runs on rumors," said analyst Paul Stronski of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Uzbekistan's opacity makes assessing the potential threat of Islamic extremism difficult, Stronski said. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan over the years has been affiliated with the Taliban, al-Qaida and the Islamic State group and its fighters active outside the country, but how much presence it has in Uzbekistan is unclear. The government may have overstated the Islamist threat to justify crackdowns on the opposition; the 2005 Andijan protests that ended with police killing hundreds were said by authorities to have been inspired by the IMU.

Although Uzbeks are largely poor and repressed, "we really don't know the full level of discontent ... we don't know how much these (Islamist) groups have penetrated," Stronski told The Associated Press. "It's something to be concerned about in the longer term, but I don't see it as imminent."

"Islamists have influence, but very limited," Vladimir Yevseyev, deputy director of the Institute for CIS Countries, a Moscow-based think tank studying ex-Soviet countries, was quoted as saying by the Tass news agency.

Analyst Adzhar Kurtov told Tass he believes that all of the possible successors to Karimov are "people with a very careful approach who will try to create a situation in this transition period that will not allow agitation and destabilization."

Stronski also said he expects that amid whatever maneuvering there is for power post-Karimov, the threat of extremism won't be sidelined. "I think generally they're going to keep an eye on the ball," he said.

Under the Uzbek constitution, if the president dies or relinquishes power, the president of the senate takes interim leadership for three months until new elections. But the senate president is seen as a pliant figure unlikely to seek the permanent presidency.

Prime Minster Shavkat Mirziyayev and a deputy prime minister, Rustam Azimov, are regarded as the best positioned to take over. Azimov, who is also finance minister, is viewed as likely the more liberal of the two.

But in a country with no genuinely democratic experience, the force of the constitution can be open to question. In the region's only analogous transfer of power, the death of Turkmenistan's president in 2006, power was to pass to the head of the parliament, but he was jailed and the health minister took over.

In the view of Alexei Martynov, a pro-Kremlin analyst in Moscow, Uzbekistan should be on guard against another threat. "U.S. political technologists who were behind the abortive coup in Uzbekistan in 2005 may feel the temptation to have another try," he was quoted as saying by Tass. "The Uzbek security services should pay the closest attention to the U.S. embassy in Tashkent, and keep an eye on what is happening there, who enters the building and who walks out of it and if the Americans are up to something."

Massive protests in Venezuela to recall Maduro govt

02 September 2016 Friday

At least 1 million Venezuelans marched Thursday in the capital, Caracas, to demand a recall vote against President Nicolas Maduro in what the opposition described as the “largest mobilization in decades”.

Protesters marched for 18 kilometers (11 miles) and occupied three main streets of the city during the protest that was called three weeks ago by opposition coalition parties in the Democratic Unity Table (MUD).

Maduro tried to downplay the numbers saying there were between 25,000 to 30,000 participants.

“Today we defeated an attempted coup that aimed to fill with violence and death Venezuela and Caracas,” he said.

Government supporters also took to the streets dressed in red t-shirts and caps to support the president.

The government is struggling to contain severe social, political and economic crises that have been aggravated by the fall of the oil prices.

Demonstrations went on without any major incidents but near the end of the protests a group of masked men threw stones and blocked a strategic road connecting the east with the west of the city, prompting police to respond by using tear gas.

The opposition on Wednesday began a new wave of mobilizations in the streets to force the National Electoral Council (CNE) to set a date for the collection of the 4 million signatures needed to ask for a recall vote. The next protests are set for Sept. 7 and 14.

The Venezuelan opposition is running out of time to dismiss the Maduro administration. If the revoke takes place before Jan. 10 and Maduro loses, Venezuelans will return to the polls to elect a new president.

But, according to the Constitution, if Maduro loses the vote after that date, he could select a vice president to lead the country.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/latin-america/176899/massive-protests-in-venezuela-to-recall-maduro-govt.