Turkey created a ‘very terrible’ situation in Syria – Pentagon chief

Robie de Guzman   •   October 24, 2019   •   273

US Secretary for Defense Mark Esper

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Thursday (October 24) criticised Turkey for its military incursion into Syria, saying it had put the U.S. and its allies in a “very terrible situation”.

Last week, Esper said he would press NATO allies “to take collective and individual diplomatic and economic measures in response” to Turkey’s incursion into northeastern Syria, even as critics have pointed out that U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision enabled the Turkish offensive. Earlier this month, Trump announced that the United States would be withdrawing its troops from northeastern Syria, clearing the way for Turkish troops to launch an offensive against Kurdish fighters in the area.

“There was not a possibility that we were going to start a war with a NATO ally,” Esper said.

Speaking at an event organised in Brussels by the German Marshall Fund think tank, the Defense Secretary urged Ankara to demonstrate that it was still a “responsible” NATO ally.

The American pullout from northeastern Syria has raised concern that it could allow a resurgence of Islamic State militants.

Esper said he already talked to his British and French counterparts and that the U.S. was still committed to continue the fight against Islamic State militants. He was expected to discuss the topic further at a meeting of NATO defence ministers later in the day. (Reuters)

(Production: Christian Levaux, Jorrit Donner-Wittkopf)

Syria’s Aleppo airport receives first scheduled flight in eight years

UNTV News   •   February 19, 2020

A SyrianAir passenger plane landed on Wednesday (February 19) at Aleppo’s civilian airport, the first scheduled flight to touch down in the country’s war-devastated economic hub for eight years.

The reopening of the airport comes days after the Russian-backed Syrian army said it had seized rural areas northwest of Aleppo, a major strategic gain in weeks of bombing of the last rebel bastion in northwestern Syria.

On an organized trip, local and international media were invited by the Syrian transportation ministry to travel on the first plane that took off from the capital Damascus, and land at the Aleppo airport.

Government officials hope the resumption of commercial flights will help revive the economic activity in the city, which was the scene of some of the most vicious fighting of the war between 2012 and 2016. Rebel-held eastern Aleppo was regained by government forces in 2016.

Transport Minister Ali Hammoud said authorities were waiting for approvals to resume international flights, with plans to reopen the route to Cairo next month.

Aleppo’s other airport Nairab is a major military base that the Syrian air force uses to strike opposition areas and has also been a target of Israeli strikes on alleged Iranian bases.

In another strategic gain for President Bashar al-Assad, Syrian government forces aided by Iranian-backed militias consolidated their control over the M5 highway linking Aleppo to Damascus, a vital trade artery in northern Syria.

The highway, the fastest route between Syria’s two biggest cities, should be ready for civilian use in the coming days for the first time in years, the authorities said. (Reuters)

(Production: Firas Makdesi, Kinda Makieh, Michael Fiorentino)

Three killed, 179 injured after plane skids off runway in Istanbul

UNTV News   •   February 6, 2020

Morning light on Thursday (February 6) showed the extent of damage to a Pegasus Airlines plane that skidded off a runway and broke into three pieces after landing at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen airport on Wednesday evening.

Three people died in the hospital following the crash, with 179 of the 183 aboard wounded, according to Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca.

The wounded were being treated at 18 nearby hospitals, Ali Yerlikaya, the governor of Istanbul, had said earlier Wednesday, adding that the plane was carrying 177 passengers and six crew from the western province of Izmir.

The Boeing 737-86J split into three pieces after what authorities said was a drop of around 30 to 40 meters (98 to 131 ft) at the end of the runway. Footage showed the plane landing and continuing at a high speed off the runway.

Flights had been diverted to Istanbul Airport while the runway at Sabiha Gokcen was closed, Transport Minister Cahit Turhan said.

However, Sabiha Gokcen Airport announced the runway reopened from 4 a.m. (0100 GMT) and its website showed flights had resumed on Thursday morning. (Reuters)

(Production: Mehmet Caliskan, Bulent Usta, Yesim Dikmen)

Iran calls for unity to expel US from Middle East during visit by Syrian PM

UNTV News   •   January 14, 2020

Syrian Prime Minister Imad Khamis delivers an address during the opening of the Damascus International Fair on Sept. 6, 2018, in Damascus, Syria. EPA-EFE FILE/Youssef Badawi

By Marina Villen

Tehran – Iranian authorities on Monday called on the region’s countries to unite to expel US troops from the Middle East during a visit to Tehran by a Syrian delegation headed by Prime Minister Imad Khamis.

Khamis’s presence in Iran was significant because the Islamic Republic has backed the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in its war against the armed opposition and insurgent groups, support that mostly came via Gen. Qasem Soleimani, who was recently killed in a US drone strike in Iraq.

“As long as US terrorist forces are present in West Asia, the region will not achieve peace or security,” Ali Shamkhani, an influential official who serves as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, told the Syrian prime minister.

To end this situation, Shamkhani said that “the withdrawal of the US will happen through the unity of the countries and governments of the region,” Iranian official state media reported.

“The presence and interference of the United States have caused instability, especially in Iraq and Syria,” Iranian First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri said.

The expulsion of US troops, therefore, is “the best revenge,” Jahangiri said.

Syria is part of the so-called Axis of Resistance against the United States and Israel led by Iran and comprised of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces militia and the Palestinian Hamas movement.

Iran and some of these groups vowed revenge for the killing of Soleimani in a US drone strike in Baghdad.

“Without a doubt, the martyrdom of Gen. Soleimani will make the Axis of Resistance more determined in its fight,” Shamkhani said.

The United States thought that Soleimani’s killing would lead to the “collapse of that front of the region,” Shamkhani said.

The Iranian general’s killing, however, led to “more cohesion and strengthening of the Axis of Resistance,” Shamkhani said.

Iranian Parliament speaker Ali Larijani expressed the same view during his meeting with Khamis.

As the head of the elite Quds Force, a branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Soleimani had for years spread Iran’s influence across the wider Middle East, strengthening Shia militias from Lebanon to Iraq.

Khamis posthumously awarded Syria’s highest military medal to Soleimani, noting that the honor reflected “the deep affection” of al-Assad for the late Iranian general.

The Syrian official also thanked Iran for its support in eradicating terrorism in Syria and called for strengthening economic and trade relations at a time when Iranian companies are seeking huge contracts to rebuild the Arab country.

Soleimani’s killing is “an example of the US conspiracies in the region,” the Syrian prime minister, who headed a delegation that includes Foreign Minister Walid al-Mualem and Defense Minister Ali Abdullah Ayyoub, said.

“The fight against the presence of US forces in the region must become a sustained process,” Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami said during a meeting with his Syrian counterpart.

Despite Soleimani’s death, “the path of resistance continues,” Hatami said.

In retaliation for Soleimani’s killing, Iran launched a missile attack on an air base in Iraq housing US troops, sparking fears of a wider conflict and leading countries that have good relations with Tehran and Washington to mediate in a bid to ease tensions.

The Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, visited Tehran on Sunday, while Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi tried to ease tensions in the region on Monday.

Qureshi, who is scheduled to travel to Saudi Arabia next, called for “maximum restraint and immediate steps” to resolve the crisis, advocating “dialogue and diplomacy.”

No one wants war, the Pakistani official said.

Iranian President Hasan Rohani said he welcomes “with pleasure, Pakistan’s efforts to promote regional peace and stability.”

The Islamic Republic “never tried to start a war,” the Iranian president said. EFE

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