Coronavirus: Over 1,000 Passengers Stranded At Istanbul Airport

A map of Turkey used to illustrate the story.
A map of Turkey used to illustrate the story.

 

More than 1,000 Algerian passengers are stranded at Istanbul airport because of the new coronavirus pandemic, the facility’s operator said Tuesday, as Ankara urged Algiers to allow their return home.

Algiers is refusing to let them back into the country, according to IGA Airport Operations.

“We, as IGA, Turkish Red Crescent, Turkish Airlines and Havas (bus company) have been trying to satisfy the humanitarian needs and requirements of over 1,000 Algerian visitors for several days now,” the operator said in a statement on Twitter.

“The Turkish government has been making efforts for a week now to persuade the Algerian government to grant landing rights for the affected flights.”

The North African country had confirmed 201 COVID-19 infections and 17 deaths as of Monday.

Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced late Tuesday the death toll in Turkey had reached 44 while the number of cases increased by 343 to 1,872 in total.

AFP

Istanbul Police Fire Tear Gas At Women’s Day March

Turkish women gather to celebrate International Women’s Day in Ankara on March 8, 2020.
Adem ALTAN / AFP

 

Istanbul police fired tear gas Sunday to prevent hundreds of women marching on the city’s central avenue on International Women’s Day after authorities ban the march for the second year running.

Riot police were trying to disperse the crowds at the popular Taksim Square, close to Istiklal Avenue where the women wanted to march, an AFP correspondent said.

There was a heavy police presence and demonstrators were met by a wall of officers. The situation was calm until the women tried to enter the avenue and officers intervened.

The women marching chanted feminist slogans and some carried placards including: “Trans women are women”, “Abuse cannot be forgiven or excused” and “Long live the feminist struggle”.

Last year’s march was also banned and police fired tear gas at thousands of women on the central avenue, despite a peaceful demonstration in 2018.

The Istanbul governor’s office earlier on Sunday said all roads leading to Taksim Square and Istiklal Avenue would be closed.

The issue of women’s rights is often on the news agenda following high profile femicides, and critics accuse President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted government of not taking violence against women seriously enough.

One killing that had a particular impact was the murder of 38-year-old Turkish woman Emine Bulut at the hands of her former husband in August 2019.

She was killed in front of her 10-year-old daughter.

In 2019, 474 women were killed in murders linked to their gender, according to the women’s rights group “We Will Stop Femicide”, compared with 440 in 2018 and 210 in 2012.

AFP

Turkey Downs Syria Warplane, Kills Pilot

(FILES) A Syrian Aero L-39 Albatros war plane drops a payload above buildings across the border in Syria during air strikes backing a Syrian-government-led offensive in the southern province of Quneitra.  JALAA MAREY / AFP

 

A Turkish fighter jet Tuesday downed a Syrian regime warplane in the northwestern Idlib province and the pilot was killed, a monitoring group said.

It was the third such downing in three days amid escalating fighting between Turkish forces and Syria’s Russian- and Iranian-backed regime.

A missile fired by Syrian regime forces on the city of Idlib, meanwhile, killed nine civilians in the province of the same name that is Syria’s last opposition bastion.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have since December battled to retake the jihadist-dominated stronghold, where Ankara backs some rebel groups.

The deadly offensive has caused almost a million people to flee their homes and shelters, and triggered a direct Turkish military intervention last week.

A Turkish F-16 downed the regime plane over Idlib province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor and a source at the Turkish defence ministry said.

The Britain-based monitor said it was not clear if the pilot was killed during the downing or afterwards by opposition fighters, and that his body was mutilated.

Syrian state news agency SANA quoted a military source as confirming one of its planes was downed, after two others suffered the same fate on Sunday.

“One of our warplanes carrying out a mission in southern Idlib… was hit by a missile fired by Turkish regime forces, leading to its downing,” the source said.

The Turkish ministry said the regime plane was a L-39.

Also on Tuesday, a surface-to-surface missile fired by regime forces hit an Idlib residential neighbourhood, killing nine civilians including five children, the Observatory said.

That brings the civilian death toll since December to more than 470, according to the monitor.

Damascus meanwhile also claimed it had downed a Turkish drone near the town of Saraqeb, two days after it said it had hit three other unmanned aerial vehicles.

The Turkish operation comes after an air strike on Thursday blamed on Damascus killed 34 Turkish soldiers in the region.

The Observatory says Turkish bombardment — mostly drone strikes — has killed 119 regime soldiers and 20 allied fighters since.

On Sunday, Damascus closed its air space over northwest Syria and threatening to shoot down any “enemy” aircraft violating it.

The Syrian conflict has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions since it began in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

AFP

Turkey To Continue Military Operation Against Syrian Regime

Turkey on Sunday announced the launch of an offensive against the Moscow-backed Syrian regime, as Ankara put pressure on Europe by opening its border for migrants to seek passage to the continent via Greece.

Tensions have soared between Russia and Turkey — who back opposing forces in Syria’s civil war — after an airstrike blamed on Damascus killed dozens of Turkish soldiers in Idlib last week.

Turkish and Syrian military exchanged fire over the weekend with Syrian forces targetting a Turkish drone and artillery and Ankara claiming to have shot down two Syrian fighter jets.

The situation in rebel-held Idlib was already volatile as the regime supported by Russian air power pressed an assault on the region, killing hundreds of civilians, in a bid to retake the last opposition enclave in an eight-year civil war.

The confrontation between the Russia-backed Syrian military and NATO-member Turkey, which supports Syrian rebels, has prompted worries over a wider conflict and a migrant crisis in Europe similar to 2015.

Migrant numbers have already surged along the rugged frontier after Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, seeking to pressure the EU over Syria, said the country had “opened the doors” to Europe.

Greece said Sunday it has blocked nearly 10,000 migrants at its border with Turkey.

As migrant boats continued to land on Greek islands, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar announced the first confirmation of a full and continuing operation against Damascus.

“Following the heinous attack on February 27 in Idlib, operation ‘Spring Shield’ successfully continues,” Akar said in a video shared by the defence ministry.

Turkish forces hit Syrian regime positions after Erdogan warned Damascus would “pay a price” for the air strike that killed 34 Turkish troops inside Idlib on Thursday.

Under a 2018 deal with Russia meant to bring calm to Idlib, Turkey has 12 observation posts in Syria — but several have come under fire from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Turkey on Friday said it retaliated by hitting more than 200 Syria regime targets in drone and artillery bombardments.

Turkey wants the international community to establish a no-fly zone over Idlib, where Islamist fighters backed by Ankara pose the biggest obstacle to Damascus seizing back control over all of Syria.

Planes shot down 

Syrian state media reported that Turkey targeted two regime planes over Idlib.

SANA also reported the regime shot down a Turkish drone near the town of Saraqeb, publishing footage of an aircraft tumbling from the sky in flames. That could not be immediately confirmed.

The Turkish defence ministry confirmed one of its drones was shot down and two other anti-aircraft systems had been destroyed.

It added two SU-24 regime planes that were attacking Turkish aircraft were downed.

The latest violence has raised tensions between Moscow and Ankara, but Ankara insists Turkey did not wish to clash with Russia.

Turkish media reported on Sunday that Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin would meet in Moscow on March 5.

Earlier on Sunday, Istanbul police detained the editor-in-chief of the Turkish version of Russia’s Sputnik website as its offices were being searched in Istanbul.

Three of its journalists were also taken to a courthouse in Ankara for questioning, likely related to a Sputnik article in English claiming Turkey’s Hatay province was “stolen” from Syria. Colonial power France ceded the southern region to Turkey in 1938.

The news website later said they had been released.

The Russian and Turkish foreign ministers spoke by telephone on Sunday, Moscow’s ministry said, to discuss preparations for the meeting between Putin and Erdogan, and the safety of the Sputnik journalists.

 Protecting borders 

Some 13,000 migrants have amassed at the Turkey-Greece border, including families with young children who spent the night in the cold, the International Organization for Migration said.

An estimated additional 2,000 migrants arrived at the Pazarkule border gate Sunday, including Afghans, Syrians and Iraqis, according to an AFP reporter.

But as the crowds rushed to enter Europe, Greek police and soldiers blocked 9,972 “illegal entrances” from entering the northeastern Evros region in the past 24 hours, a Greek government source said.

The UN refugee agency spokesman Babar Baloch called for “calm and easing of tensions on the border,” as he urged countries to “refrain from the use of excessive and disproportionate force”.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday said the EU was watching “with concern” and stood ready to deploy its Frontex border guard agency.

The developments recalled events in 2015 when over a million migrants fled to Europe, mainly via Greece in what became the continent’s worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.

The EU’s commissioner for migration, Margaritis Schinas, tweeted Sunday he had requested an extraordinary meeting of EU interior ministers to discuss the situation.

Erdogan said Turkey, home to some 3.6 million refugees, did not plan to close the borders because “the (EU) should keep its promises”.

He was referring to the 2016 deal with Brussels to stop the flow of refugees in exchange for billions of euros.

AFP

French President Macron Calls For ‘Lasting’ Syria Ceasefire

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during the opening day of the “Made in France“ event at the Elysee Palace in Paris on January 17, 2020. Michel Euler / POOL / AFP
French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during the opening day of the “Made in France“ event at the Elysee Palace in Paris on January 17, 2020. Michel Euler / POOL / AFP

 

French President Emmanuel Macron has called for Turkey and Russia to implement a lasting ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib province in conversations with the two countries’ leaders, the Elysee said.

Moscow-backed Syrian forces have since December led a military offensive against the final major rebel stronghold, where Ankara supports some rebel groups.

Macron expressed his “very strong concern about the unfolding humanitarian crisis” to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, according to a statement released on Saturday.

He also warned of the risk terrorist groups would spread “because of the military offensive of the Syrian regime and its allies,” adding it undermined the 2018 Idlib agreement between Russia and Turkey to create a demilitarised zone in the northwestern province.

READ ALSO: Merkel, Macron, Johnson Agree To Work Towards ‘Reducing Tensions’ In Mideast

The accord has fallen apart as Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s forces moved to recapture the last big region outside his control.

Macron said an “immediate halt to hostilities” is needed and called on Russia and Turkey to implement a “lasting and verifiable” ceasefire as outlined in that agreement.

Russia must “end its military offensive in northwest Syria and respect international humanitarian law, the protection of civilians, personnel and humanitarian access”, he added.

Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have called for a summit with Erdogan and Putin to seek an end to the crisis.

AFP

Turkey Says It Destroyed Syrian Chemical Facility As Retaliation

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a press conference following a meeting with Italian Prime Minister at the Presidential Complex in Ankara, Turkey on January 13, 2020.
Adem ALTAN / AFP

 

A Turkish official said Saturday that Turkey destroyed a chemical warfare facility after dozens of its soldiers were killed by Syrian regime fire in the last-rebel enclave of Idlib province. 

The Turkish army destroyed overnight “a chemical warfare facility, located some 13 kilometres south of Aleppo, along with a large number of other regime targets,” the senior official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on sources inside the war-torn country, said that Turkey instead hit a military airport in eastern Aleppo, where the monitoring group says there are no chemical weapons.

Thirty-three Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike by Russian-backed Syrian regime forces in the Idlib region on Thursday, the biggest Turkish military loss on the battlefield in recent years.

The latest incident has raised further tensions between Ankara and Moscow, whose relationship has been tested by violations of a 2018 deal to prevent a regime offensive on Idlib.

As part of the agreement, Ankara set up 12 observation posts in the province but Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces — backed by Russian air power — have pressed on with a relentless campaign to take back the region.

On Friday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by phone with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in a bid to scale down the tensions.

Erdogan may travel next week to Moscow for talks, according to the Kremlin.

Depite being on opposite ends, Turkey, which backs several rebel groups in Syria, and key regime ally Russia are trying to find a political solution to the Syria conflict.

 

AFP

Turkey To Shut Iran Border Over Coronavirus

Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks in Ankara, on February 12, 2020. Adem ALTAN / AFP

 

 

Turkey on Sunday announced it would “temporarily” close its border with neighboring Iran as alarm grows over a spike in new coronavirus infections there.

“We have decided to shut the land border temporarily after an increase in the number of cases in our neighbor Iran,” Health Minister Fahrettin Koca told reporters.

The land and railway borders will be closed from 1700 (1400 GMT) on Sunday, the minister said.

He said air traffic from Iran into Turkey would also be halted from 2000 (1700 GMT) on Sunday but departures to Iran could continue.

Iran confirmed eight deaths from the novel coronavirus on Sunday, the highest toll of any country outside China.

Koca said Turkey was “alarmed” by the growing number of cases and forced to take the measures after speaking with the Iranian authorities.

AFP

Turkey Confirms Eight Dead After Iran Border Earthquake

A map of Turkey used to illustrate the story.
A map of Turkey used to illustrate the story.

 

Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said Sunday eight people were killed in eastern Turkey after a 5.7 magnitude earthquake hit neighbouring Iran, the official Anadolu news agency reported.

He said three of the dead were children, adding that some other people were believed to be trapped under the rubble.

Turkish broadcaster NTV showed images of damage in several villages in Van province on the Iran border.

“Search and rescue efforts are ongoing,” Soylu said.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said 21 people were injured and eight of them were in critical condition, according to Anadolu.

The epicentre of the quake, which struck at 9:23 am (0553 GMT), was near the Iranian village of Habash-e Olya, less than 10 kilometres (six miles) from the border, according to the US Geological Survey.

The earthquake had a depth of six kilometres, according to Tehran University’s Seismological Centre.

It injured at least 25 people and damaged a number of houses in four villages of Iran’s West Azerbaijan province, Mojtaba Khaledi, a spokesman for the country’s emergency services, told AFP.

Anadolu said the quake caused damage in several villages in  Van province.

The province was struck earlier this month by two avalanches which killed 41 people.

In 2011, an earthquake measuring 7.1 hit near the cities of Van and Ercis in eastern Turkey, killing more than 500 people.

 

AFP

Libyan Commander Ready To Fight Turkish Forces If Peace Talks Fail

This handout picture released by the Russian Foreign Ministry on January 13, 2020 shows Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov welcoming Libya’s military strongman Khalifa Haftar in Moscow.
HO / RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY / AFP

 

Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar vowed on Friday to fight Turkish forces if peace talks in Geneva failed, in comments to a Russian news agency.

The eastern military commander, who is backed by Russia, gave the interview to RIA Novosti after meeting Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu on Wednesday.

“If talks in Geneva do not achieve peace and security for our country, if mercenaries do not return to where they were brought from, the armed forces will fulfil their constitutional obligations… to defend against the Turkish Ottoman invaders,” Haftar said in translated comments.

Talks between the warring parties in Geneva ended earlier this month with no result.

A second-round began Tuesday, but broke down after rocket fire hit a port in Tripoli. Talks then resumed Thursday.

The oil-rich country has been mired in chaos since 2011 when a NATO-backed uprising led to the killing of longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi. Haftar launched an offensive to capture Tripoli in April.

Turkey supports the UN-recognised government in Tripoli led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, with whom Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in November signed a deal on security, maritime and military cooperation.

“As we’ve said, our patience is at the limit due to the regular violations of the ceasefire by groups of fighters hired by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Libyan Prime Minister Sarraj,” Haftar said, accusing them of failing to fulfil promises they made in Berlin.

At a Berlin summit last month, countries including Russia, Turkey, France and Egypt agreed to end foreign interference in Libya and respect a UN arms embargo.

Haftar added that his forces “are assessing the situation in Tripoli, are in contact with the international sides and are ready for all options.”

Moscow and Ankara together brokered a tenuous truce in Libya last month. The two sides agreed to end fighting, but the ceasefire has been violated.

Haftar said Friday that his conditions for a ceasefire were “withdrawal of Syria and Turkish mercenaries, Turkey stopping supplies of weapons to Tripoli and the liquidation of terrorist groups.”

The UN envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame, said Thursday that his mission to secure a lasting ceasefire and eventually a political solution was “very difficult” but “possible.”

 

AFP

Erdogan Threatens To Attack Regime Forces ‘Everywhere’ In Syria

President of Turkey and leader of Justice and Development (AK) Party Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at the party’s group meeting at Grand National Assembly of Turkey in Ankara, on February 12, 2020. Adem ALTAN / AFP

 

Turkey will strike Syrian regime forces “everywhere” if its soldiers come under renewed attack, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Wednesday and accused Damascus ally Russia of committing “massacres” in Idlib.

“I hereby declare that we will strike regime forces everywhere from now on regardless of the Sochi deal if any tiny bit of harm comes to our soldiers at observation posts or elsewhere,” Erdogan told a meeting of his ruling party in parliament.

The latest threat comes after more than a dozen Turkish soldiers were killed in regime shelling in the northwestern province of Idlib — the last rebel bastion in Syria.

Syrian regime forces, backed by Russian air strikes, have pressed ahead with an offensive to retake the province from rebel groups despite the 2018 Sochi ceasefire deal agreed between Turkey and Russia.

Recent direct clashes between Turkish soldiers and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have significantly raised the stakes, as well as heightening tensions between Moscow and Ankara, the chief foreign brokers of the conflict.

In a rare move on Wednesday, Erdogan was directly critical of Russia.

“The regime, backed by Russian forces and Iran-backed militants, are continuously attacking civilians, committing massacres and shedding blood,” he said.

He added that Turkey would do “whatever necessary” to push back regime forces behind the 12 observation posts it set up in Idlib under the Sochi deal in a bid to prevent a regime offensive.

But Syrian forces are advancing and taking town after town despite Ankara’s warnings.

“We are determined to push back (regime forces) behind the borders of the Sochi deal by the end of February,” said Erdogan.

“We will do whatever is necessary both on the ground and in the air without any hesitation and without any delay.”

The Turkish leader also said that aircraft striking settlements in Idlib would “no longer move freely”.

AFP

Three Dead, Scores Hurt, In Turkey Plane Accident

 

Three people have died and 179 were injured when a plane skidded off the runway at an Istanbul airport, caught fire and split into three after landing in rough weather.

Live images broadcast on Turkish television showed several people climbing through a large crack in the severed aircraft and escaping onto one of the wings at the rear.

The Boeing 737 operated by Turkish low-cost carrier Pegasus Airlines had flown into Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen airport from the Aegean port city of Izmir on Wednesday, NTV television reported.

The plane was apparently buffeted by strong winds and heavy rain lashing Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city.

Three Turks were killed and 179 injured, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca told reporters.

“Some passengers evacuated the plane by themselves but others are stuck inside and our rescuers are working to free them,” Transport Minister Mehmet Cahit Turhan said on CNN-Turk television.

The plane was carrying 177 passengers and six crew members, state news agency Anadolu said, revising the previous total given by Turkish authorities. Turkish media reports said there were 12 children on board.

Istanbul governor Ali Yerlikaya said the plane “slid some 60 metres (200 feet)” after skidding off the runway, and then “fell about 30-40 metres” down a bank.

The accident, which he attributed to bad weather, “could have had more serious consequences”, he said.

NTV showed images of the badly damaged plane and flames inside, which were later put out by firefighters.

After darkness fell, television footage showed dozens of rescue workers in high-visibility jackets surrounding the plane with flashlights.

Some sprayed water jets onto the severed body of the aircraft, while others could be seen climbing up onto the plane to comb through the cabin.

‘Strong landing’

According to NTV, Turhan said the plane broke after a “strong landing” at Sabiha Gokcen, one of two main international airports in Istanbul.

The front of the plane including the cockpit was sliced off from the bulk of the fuselage, and another huge fissure separated the rear of the aircraft including the tail.

Sabiha Gokcen, which lies on the Asian side of Turkey’s commercial hub, was closed and flights were being redirected to Istanbul’s main airport.

There had been very strong winds and rain in the area before the incident and poor weather conditions in Istanbul, particularly in winter, often lead to the cancellation of flights.

The Istanbul public prosecutor has launched an investigation into the incident.

The plane had landed at the airport at 1518 GMT, the private DHA news agency reported.

In January 2018, a Pegasus Boeing 737-800 slid down an embankment at Trabzon airport on the Black Sea, and landed just metres from the water with its wheels stuck in thick mud.

After four days, the plane was eventually lifted back onto the runway with engineers using cranes. All 162 passengers and six crew were safely evacuated.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sought to make Istanbul the world’s top aviation hub and in 2018 opened a new mega-airport in the city of 15 million people.

Pegasus, which has been flying for 20 years, has a fleet of 83 aircraft, including 47 Boeings and 36 Airbus planes, according to its website.

AFP

120 Injured In Turkey Plane Accident

This picture taken on February 05, 2020, shows Pegasus airlines Boeing 737 plane after it skidded off the runway at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen airport.  Muhammed DEMIR / AFP

 

At least 120 people were injured Wednesday, when a plane skidded off the runway at an Istanbul airport and split into three after landing in rough weather, the city’s governor said. 

“At the moment, 120 people who were injured have been hospitalised,” said governor Ali Yerlikaya, adding that most of them were “doing well, aside from one or two people.”

The Boeing 737 operated by Turkish low-cost carrier Pegasus Airlines had flown into Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen airport from the Aegean port city of Izmir.