Turkish authorities on Sunday arrested a pro-Kurdish opposition MP who had refused to leave parliament for several days after his seat was revoked, his party said.
Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu “was brought out by force while he was in pyjamas and slippers” by “nearly 100 police officers”, the leftist Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said in a statement.
The parliament on Wednesday revoked the seat of Gergerlioglu, an outspoken rights defender, and his accompanying immunity from prosecution after a controversial conviction over a social media post.
Gergerlioglu was handed a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence for spreading “terrorist propaganda” online.
Gergerlioglu has rejected the accusations, and his expulsion from parliament was criticised by numerous campaign groups and Western governments.
He had remained holed up in a room in the parliament since Wednesday.
The HDP tweeted a photo of him being escorted out of the room, wearing a black T-shirt.
“You used to be able to see this kind of scene in the 1990s. Unfortunately, nothing has changed,” Gergerlioglu said during his arrest, according to comments reported by his party.
His remark referred to a decade marked by a flaring of the Kurdish conflict in southeastern Turkey when several pro-Kurdish MPs were arrested.
The HDP, the third-largest party in the Turkish parliament, has been under a constant crackdown since 2016 with the arrest of several of its lawmakers and leaders, including its charismatic co-chair Selahattin Demirtas.
Demirtas — a two-time rival to incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan in presidential elections — has been kept in detention since 2016 despite calls from the European Court of Human Rights demanding his release.
The top public prosecutor in Ankara had on Wednesday demanded that the HDP be dissolved over its alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The PKK has been waging an insurgency since 1984 that has killed tens of thousands and is listed as a terrorist organisation by Ankara and its Western allies.
The HDP has seen dozens of its mayors dismissed over alleged terror links.
Western powers have universally condemned the bid to shut down the HDP. The country’s highest court is due to rule on the case in the coming weeks.
US President Donald Trump on Thursday hailed the announcement that Turkey had agreed to suspend its offensive against Kurdish militants in northern Syria, calling it a “great day” for the Turks and the Kurds.
“We have a five-day ceasefire,” Trump told reporters, after Vice President Mike Pence said that Ankara had agreed to suspend its military operation, and end it entirely once Kurdish fighters withdraw from a safe zone along the Turkey-Syria border.
“It’s a great day for the United States,” the president said in Fort Worth, Texas, where he is to hold a reelection rally.
“It’s a great day for Turkey,” Trump said. “It’s a great day for the Kurds. It’s a great day for civilization.”
“This is a situation where everybody’s happy,” Trump declared.
Trump has come under bipartisan fire in Washington for abruptly pulling US troops in Syria near the Turkish border, paving the way for Ankara’s operation against the Kurds, who have been US allies in the fight against the Islamic State group.
Trump heaped praise on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“He’s a hell of a leader,” Trump said. “He did the right thing.
“I have great respect for the president.”
Asked whether a November visit to Washington by Erdogan was still on the table, Trump said “that would be very much open.
“I would say, yeah, he would come. He did a terrific thing.”
The president it would no longer be necessary to impose US sanctions on Turkey.
“Sanctions won’t be necessary because Turkey’s doing what they’re doing,” he said.
Asked whether he believed a ceasefire would last, Trump said “I think it’s going to last.”
“I think President Erdogan’s very smart,” he said. “He wants it to last.”
“Turkey is a friend of ours, a neighbor of ours and a member of NATO,” he said. “And what Turkey is getting now is, they’re not going to have to kill millions of people, and millions of people aren’t going to have to kill them.”
The agreement struck by Pence left some lawmakers in Washington, including in Trump’s Republican Party, unimpressed.
“Other than giving Kurds a chance to leave so they don’t get slaughtered, it doesn’t sound like a change of any of the other dynamics I’m concerned about,” Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters.
Senator Lindsey Graham, who hours earlier unveiled legislation that would impose sharp sanctions on Turkey, said that while he was encouraged with the recent developments between Pence and Erdogan, “we’re going to keep working” to get the sanctions bill to the Senate floor for a vote.
Turkey and Syrian rebel proxies began an offensive in northern Syria last week against Kurdish fighters who Ankara brands terrorists, despite international concern over regional stability and civilian deaths.
Ankara considers Syrian Kurdish YPG militants to be an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — a group that has fought a bloody insurgency inside Turkey for 35 years.
France said Wednesday that the security of Kurdish-run prisons holding suspected jihadists in northern Syria was “currently” not threatened by a Turkish military operation in the region.
“To my knowledge, the Turkish offensive and the positioning of the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) have so far not led to the safety and security of these camps… currently being threatened,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told French broadcaster BFMTV and RMC radio.
Meanwhile, Le Drian said he would discuss a judicial framework for putting jihadists on trial during an upcoming visit to Iraq, as calls grow for an international court to judge the extremists.
“We need to work things out with the Iraqi authorities so that we can find the ways to have a judicial mechanism that is able to judge all these fighters, including obviously the French fighters,” he told newsmen, without specifying when he would go to Baghdad.
The UN warned on Tuesday that reported summary executions of civilians in northeastern Syria carried out by pro-Turkish fighters could amount to a “war crime” and that Ankara could be “deemed responsible”.
The Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces said over the weekend that at least nine civilians were “executed” as part of Turkey’s incursion into northeastern Syria, which began nearly a week ago.
Among them was 35-year-old Hevrin Khalaf, the secretary-general of the Future Syria Party, who according to the forces was taken out of her car and killed by Turkish-allied Syrian fighters.
The UN rights office said its staff had viewed two separate pieces of video footage “showing what appear to be summary executions carried out by fighters belonging to the Ahrar al-Sharqiya armed group, which is affiliated with Turkey, on 12 October.”
Spokesman Rupert Colville said the footage, which has been widely shared on social media, appeared “to show the fighters filming themselves capturing and executing three Kurdish captives” on a main highway.
“Only one of the captives appeared to be wearing military uniform,” he told reporters in Geneva, adding that the office had also received reports of Khalaf’s execution the same day “on the same highway”.
He said the UN was working to verify the footage and confirm the details of the events, but stressed that under international law, “summary executions are serious violations, and may amount to a war crime.”
He warned that “Turkey could be deemed responsible as a state for violations committed by their affiliated armed groups, as long as Turkey exercises effective control over these groups, or the operations in the course of which those violations occurred.”
Colville called on Ankara “to immediately launch an impartial, transparent and independent investigation into both incidents.”
Turkey, he said, must also “apprehend those responsible, some of whom should be easily identifiable from the video footage they themselves shared on social media.”
Since the Turkish offensive began last Wednesday, Colville said that the UN rights office had been able to verify a number of civilian deaths each day in northeastern Syria due to “airstrikes, ground-based strikes and sniper fire.”
He pointed in particular to an airstrike that hit a convoy of vehicles on Sunday, which reportedly killed “at least four civilians, including two journalists” and injured dozens of others.
He said the UN was “appalled” by a number of attacks on medical facilities in the region.
As of Monday, he said the UN had received reports of five facilities hit — all of them allegedly by airstrikes or ground-based strikes carried out by Turkish forces and their allies.
Syria’s Kurds have announced a groundbreaking deal with Damascus on a Syrian troop deployment near the border with Turkey, as Ankara presses a deadly cross-border offensive that has sparked an international outcry.
The announcement on Sunday came as the United States ordered the withdrawal of almost its entire ground force in Syria.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the move to withdraw 1,000 US troops came after Washington learned that Turkey was pressing further into Syria than expected.
Turkey’s relentless assault, which has seen airstrikes, shelling and a ground incursion manned mainly by Syrian proxy fighters, has killed scores of civilians and fighters since its launch on Wednesday.
The Kurds feel they have been betrayed by the United States, their once formidable ally in the fight against the Islamic State jihadist group, and left to fend for themselves in the battle against Turkish forces.
The massively outgunned Kurds described their deal with the Syrian government as a necessary step to stop the assault.
“In order to prevent and confront this aggression, an agreement has been reached with the Syrian government… so that the Syrian army can deploy along the Syrian-Turkish border to assist the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF),” the Kurdish administration said in a statement.
It came after Syria’s state news agency SANA said the army was sending troops to the north to “confront the Turkish aggression”.
In an editorial published in Foreign Policy magazine, SDF chief Mazlum Abdi wrote: “If we have to choose between compromises and the genocide of our people, we will surely choose life for our people.”
Kurdish authorities and foreign powers have warned of a major humanitarian crisis, which has already forced tens of thousands to flee their homes.
They have also warned repeatedly that the hostilities could undermine the fight against IS and allow jihadists to break out of captivity.
– More civilian casualties –
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the aim of Operation Peace Spring was to establish a “security zone” that would extend 30 to 35 kilometres (20 to 25 miles) into Syria and run between Kobane to Hasakeh, a stretch of 440 kilometres.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said at least 26 civilians were killed on Sunday.
Among them was Kurdish news agency ANHA’s correspondent, Saad Ahmad. He died in a Turkish airstrike on a convoy of vehicles transporting civilians and journalists.
At least 60 civilians have now died on the Syrian side of the border, with Turkish reports putting the number of civilians dead from Kurdish shelling inside Turkey at 18.
Aid groups have warned of another humanitarian disaster in Syria’s eight-year-old war if the offensive is not halted.
The UN humanitarian agency OCHA said the exodus sparked by the fighting had grown to 130,000 people and it was preparing for that figure to more than triple.
France’s President Emmanuel Macron said the Turkish offensive — over which France has suspended arms exports to Ankara — risked creating an “unbearable humanitarian situation”.
Macron told reporters that he and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel had spoken separately with Trump and Erdogan to deliver a single, clear message: “Our common wish is that the offensive must cease”.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Italy, one of Ankara’s main arms suppliers, said he would press for an EU ban on arms sales to Turkey.
– Camp ‘without guards’ –
On the ground, the Kurdish administration in northern Syria said that the Turkish bombardment near a camp for the displaced led to nearly 800 relatives of IS members fleeing.
Some 12,000 IS fighters — Syrians, Iraqis as well as foreigners from 54 countries — are detained in Kurdish prisons, according to official Kurdish statistics.
Trump tweeted on Sunday that “the U.S. has the worst of the ISIS prisoners,” using an acronym for IS, but added: “Turkey and the Kurds must not let them escape.”
Displacement camps host some 12,000 foreigners — 8,000 children and 4,000 women.
“The brutal military assault led by Turkey and its mercenaries is now taking place near a camp in Ain Issa, where there are thousands (of people) from families of IS,” a Kurdish administration statement said.
“Some were able to escape after bombardments that targeted” the camp, it said, adding that guards were attacked and the gates of the camp flung open.
Ain Issa camp is “now without guards” and 785 relatives of IS jihadists have fled, it said.
According to the Observatory, at least 104 SDF fighters have been killed since the start of the Turkish offensive.
Turkish forces and their proxies captured Tal Abyad on Friday afternoon, which left Ras al-Ain, further east, as the last major target in the offensive.
The leaders of France and Germany called Sunday for an end to Turkey’s offensive against Kurds in northern Syria, warning of dire humanitarian consequences and a boost for the Islamic State group.
Emmanuel Macron hosted Angela Merkel in Paris for a working dinner amid turmoil stirred up by Ankara’s attack and Britain’s pending exit from the European Union, both issues on the leaders’ agenda.
Macron told reporters the pair had spoken separately Sunday with US President Donald Trump and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan to deliver a single, clear message: “Our common wish is that the offensive must cease.”
“Our conviction… is that this offensive risks, and we see it already on the ground, to create unbearable humanitarian situations on one hand and on the other help IS re-emerge in the region,” he said at a joint press conference with the chancellor.
Merkel said she had spoken to Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan for an hour and told him: “We must put an end to this Turkish invasion.
“There are humanitarian reasons for this,” she said, adding: “We can no longer accept this situation against the Kurds. Another solution must absolutely be found.”
Fighting has engulfed northern Syria since Wednesday when Ankara launched a long-threatened offensive against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which it considers “terrorists” linked to insurgents in Turkey.
Trump has been accused of abandoning a loyal ally in the fight against IS after ordering American troops to pull back from the border region.
At least 60 civilians have been killed in raids by Turkey and its proxies — Syrian ex-rebels, according to observers.
The UN says the violence has forced 130,000 people to flee their homes.
Arms Sales Stopped
France and Germany on Saturday suspended weapons exports to Turkey, amid international condemnation that had already seen Finland, Norway and The Netherlands stopping arms sales to Ankara.
A meeting in Luxembourg Monday of the European Union’s foreign affairs committee will discuss a coordinated European approach to the issue.
Macron has also called a French defence council meeting, involving Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and the ministers of justice, foreign affairs, defence and the interior, for Sunday night.
The French president called for a stronger, more unified Europe in what he described as “difficult and sometimes worrying” times for the continent and the world.
One reason for this is Brexit — Britain’s exit from the European Union by a 31 October deadline with so far no “divorce deal” in place.
“We are about to lose a member and we will see how the discussions, which have advanced this weekend, will be finalised,” said Macron.
“In this context, it is very clear to me that we can allow ourselves neither division nor self-deception nor weakness.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday played down hopes of a breakthrough in his last-ditch bid to strike an exit deal with Europe.
On Monday, Macron will host European Council President Donald Tusk for a working lunch at the Elysee presidential residence, before heading to Toulouse in the south of France to lead a French-German ministers meeting with Merkel on issues of defence, security, and climate change.
On Wednesday evening, they will meet the EU’s incoming president Ursula von der Leyen, followed on Thursday and Friday by an EU leaders’ summit in Brussels.
One issue likely to come up is the rejection by European MEPs of Sylvie Goulard, Macron’s chosen candidate for the European Commission portfolio of industrial policy, defence spending, high-tech and space — a rebuff considered a major political blow to the French president.
“I believe very deeply that in this moment in particular, Europe cannot allow itself the luxury of vengeance, of small disputes, or to add internal crises to the tensions of the world already affecting us,” he said Sunday.
There was no immediate claim for the blast, which is the latest deadly explosion to rock the city.
In January, a bomb placed on a bus killed three people.
In December, a car bomb took the lives of nine people.
Since Turkish troops and pro-Ankara Arab rebels captured the town from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the United Nations and human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have documented widespread abuses.
The UN and Amnesty have also reported patterns of house appropriations by fighters and civilians bussed to Afrin during the surrender last year of Eastern Ghouta.
Half of the enclave’s 320,000 residents fled, according to a report by the UN Commission of Inquiry, and most are unable to return.
Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since starting in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.
Turkey accuses the YPG of being “terrorists”, but the Kurdish militia also forms the backbone of a US-backed alliance fighting the Islamic State group in Syria.
Turkey on Monday vowed to keep up the fight against a US-backed Kurdish militia it views as terrorists after Donald Trump warned of economic devastation if Ankara attacks Kurdish forces as American troops withdraw.
Trump’s threat came after Ankara repeatedly threatened a new cross-border operation against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which have working closely with the United States in the war on Islamic State extremists.
US support to the YPG has been a major source of tension between the NATO allies.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said there was “no difference” between IS and the YPG.
“We will continue to fight against them all,” he said.
Trump on Sunday warned the US would “devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds”.
“Mr @realDonaldTrump Terrorists can’t be your partners & allies. Turkey expects the US to honor our strategic partnership and doesn’t want it to be shadowed by terrorist propaganda,” Kalin said in a tweet to the US president.
Kalin said on Twitter that it was “a fatal mistake to equate Syrian Kurds with the PKK”, saying that Turkey fought against terrorists not Syrian Kurds.
While there have been tensions over American training of the YPG under the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, there appeared to be some improvement on the issue after Trump said last month 2,000 American troops would withdraw from Syria.
Ankara welcomed the pullout decision after Erdogan told Trump in a phone call that Turkey could finish off the last remnants of IS.
Turkey views the YPG as a “terrorist offshoot” of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
The PKK is blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by Ankara, the United States and the European Union.
Fahrettin Altun, the communications director at the Turkish presidency, said Monday that Turkey’s fight against terrorism would continue “with determination”, adding that Turkey was “not an enemy of the Kurds”.
“Whether the source of terrorism is ideological, religious or ethnic, it does not matter. Terror is terror,” he said on Twitter.
There has been growing friction between Turkey and the US over the fate of the YPG, especially after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this month said Washington would ensure Turkey would not “slaughter” Kurds.
And before a visit to Ankara last week, White House National Security adviser John Bolton said the US retreat was conditional on the safety of the Kurdish fighters, provoking angry retorts from Turkish officials.
But Pompeo on Saturday said he was “optimistic” a way could be found to protect Syrian Kurds while allowing Turks to “defend their country from terrorists”.
The threat of new sanctions hit the Turkish lira which weakened early Monday to reach over 5.5 to the US dollar, a loss of over 1.1 percent in value on the day.
Washington previously hit Ankara with sanctions last August over the detention of an American pastor in Turkey.
The lira plunged to seven dollars at the height of tensions.
But to Turkey’s relief, the US sanctions were later lifted after Pastor Andrew Brunson was released by a Turkish court in October.
‘Radical solution’ in Idlib
Turkey previously launched military offensives in northern Syria in 2016 and 2018 respectively against IS and the YPG. In early 2018, Syrian rebels backed by Turkish military forces captured the YPG’s northwestern enclave of Afrin.
Ankara, which supports Syrian opposition fighters, is also involved in the last rebel bastion of Idlib, where Turkey has agreed on a buffer zone deal with Damascus ally Russia.
But the deal has not stopped an assault by jihadists in Syria. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an alliance led by jihadists from Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate, last week extended its administrative control over the whole of the Idlib region.
Syria’s National Coalition, the leading opposition body, on Sunday called for a “radical solution” to put “an end to its (HTS) presence in Idlib”.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday lambasted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an “oppressor” after he accused Turkey of “massacres” against Kurds in a new war of words.
Netanyahu hit back in a speech later Sunday, calling Erdogan an “anti-Semitic dictator” who is “obsessed with Israel.”
Relations between Turkey and Israel have been tense this year over multiple issues including a controversial law passed by the Israeli parliament in July which defined the country as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
“You are an oppressor, cruel and at the head of state terror,” Erdogan said of Netanyahu.
In a televised speech in Istanbul, the president also accused Israel of “occupying Palestine” as well as committing “sins, crimes against humanity, massacres”.
The latest diplomatic row began after Erdogan warned young Turks on Saturday: “Do not kick the enemy you have brought down to the ground. You are not a Jew in Israel.”
Netanyahu told Erdogan in a tweet late on Saturday that he “should not preach to Israel” as “the occupier of northern Cyprus, whose army massacres women and children in Kurdish villages, inside and outside Turkey”.
Before Erdogan’s comments on Sunday, his chief advisor Ibrahim Kalin hit out in a tweet at Netanyahu who he accused of using Erdogan “bashing… as a political chip” in a bid to save himself “from his domestic troubles”.
On December 14, Erdogan also said Palestinians were subjected to “pressures, violence and intimidation policies no less grave than the oppression done to the Jews during the Second World War”, referring to the Holocaust.
Turkey-Israel ties have been strained since Ankara ordered the Israeli ambassador to leave Turkey in May over the killing of protesters along the border with the Gaza Strip.
Erdogan, who regards himself as a champion of the Palestinians, has bitterly criticised Israel previously, calling it in July “the world’s most fascist and racist state”.
However, despite the heated rhetoric, experts point to strong economic ties and robust trade between the two countries.