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Sunday, 28 August 2016

If Iain McNicol was running a local authority election he’d have been arrested for Corrupt Electoral Practices

Trades Unionists are barred from voting but Lord Sainsbury who donated £2m to the Lib-Dems is welcome

Corbyn needs to call for the removal of Iain McNicol and all attempts to rig the LP election
Crooked Iain McNicol, General Secretary of the Labour Party, has to go
Crooked McNicol tries to avoid responsibility for purge - his officials and staff are putting up names of people to compliant NEC members


Corbyn Must Now Call For the Removal of Iain McNicol
It was less than a week ago that I wrote, based on an article in The Telegraph that ‘Thousands to be expelled for anti-Semitism  We are now in the midst of a concerted witch hunt in the Labour Party, the likes we have never seen before.

Dianne Abbot condemns purge
Another suspended member of the Labour Party
Emergency Resolution from Bakers Union
Labour Party General Secretary, Iain McNicol, has taken upon himself the mantle, in conjunction with Deputy Leader, Tom Watson, to purge as many suspected Corbyn supporters as possible in an attempt to rig the leadership election.  Whether it succeeds is doubtful, what is not in doubt is that the Right are making strenuous efforts to bar anyone who they believe is a Corbyn supporter.
If McNicol was responsible for running a Parliamentary or Local election then he would be guilty of corrupt electoral practices and be liable to a prison sentence.  We should bombard the Electoral Reform Services with messages or ring 020 8365 8909  to complain about how what is happening is tantamount to fraud.
John McTernan, Political Adviser to Blair & Brown and lately adviser to Jim Murphy, who lost Labour 50 seats in Scotland, has not been suspended despite threatening opponent with physical violence
We have a unique situation where those who are holding the election are actively seeking to debar people from voting if they support one particular candidate.  McNicol’s Compliance Unit is actively seeking out social media posts and tweets and then banning people because they have mentioned or used words like ‘scum’ or ‘Blairite’. 
Active trade unions like Ron Draper, leader of the Bakers Union, have been debarred from voting.  John Dunne, an ex-Miner and Secretary of the Justice for Mineworkers Union has been suspended.  Hundreds of people up and down the country have been suspended or debarred as part of this witch hunt.  It is illustrative of the Right that the only way they think they can win is by stopping people vote.  That is the pathetic nature of Progress and people like Luke Akehurst.
Good trade unionists are now being purged to enable scum like arms salesman and Israel advocate Luke Akehurst to reclaim the Labour Party
Unfortunately a group of people on the National Executive Council, and it must be presumed that this includes Anne Black, the so-called grassroots left candidate, are actively collaborating in this witch hunt.
What is particular outrageous about the suspensions and purge is that the Right can get away with any amount of abuse without any action being taken against them.  Michael Foster, the Zionist millionaire who tried to stop Corbyn even being on the ballot paper, wrote an article in the former Hitler supporting Daily Mail accusing Corbyn and his followers are being SS Stormtroopers.  Despite such Holocaust comparisons apparently being outlawed following the Chakrabarti Inquiry no action has been taken against Foster.
Imagine an election where you are contacted by the town hall staff and asked why you want to vote
And despite anyone who ever supported another party being disbarred from voting, Lord Sainsbury, who donated £2m to the Lib Dems last year is being allowed to vote.  Strange that, but then again not very strange because non-socialists are always welcomed by Progress and their supporters.

It is welcome that John McDonell has condemend what is happening.  Following the suspension of Ronnie Draper he made a statement via Twitter suggesting a rigged purge of Corbyn’s supporters was under way:
A racist New Labour member not suspended

“The decision by Labour Party officials to suspend the Bakers’ Union leader Ronnie Draper from the party and deny him a vote in Labour’s leadership election over unidentified media posts is shocking, and appears to be part of a clear pattern of double standards.
Ron Draper General Secretary of  Bakers Union
“While Ronnie, a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, has been denied his say in Labour’s election no action is being taken over the Labour peer Lord Sainsbury, who has given more than £2m to support the Liberal Democrats.

“And no action has been taken against Michael Foster, the Labour Party member who abused Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters and staff as Nazi stormtroopers in the Daily Mail.

“Both will, as things stand, be able to vote in this election. Meanwhile thousands of other members and registered supporters are reported to have been denied a vote without being given an explanation or opportunity to challenge the decision or process.

“Labour Party members will not accept what appears to be a rigged purge of Jeremy Corbyn supporters. The conduct of this election must be fair and even-handed.

“I am writing to Labour’s General Secretary Iain McNicol to demand that members and supporters who are suspended or lose their voting rights are given clear information about why action has been taken and a timely opportunity to challenge the decision.

“In particular the specification of particular terms of abuse to exclude Labour Party members from voting should not be applied retrospectively.”
Ron Draper of the Bakers Union Suspended without any reason
Jeremy Corbyn has also expressed concern in what was a weak statement which said he was writing to Iain McNicol.   Corbyn spoke to Sky News and claimed to be very concerned that some people have been removed from the ability to vote in this election. That is not good enough.  Writing to McNicol is useless.  The NEC should be recalled and a proposal made to put an end to this nonsense and to suspend McNicol pending an investigation.
In the meantime don’t help the witch hunters.  Billy Casper has produced Purge-Proofing for Labour Supporters: A Handy Guide, do read it.

see also here where the Police were sent round by LP HQ to try and harrass a party member

See Purges, Party Democracy and Hypocrisy

One of many

Block and Unfriend Natasha Allmark - Suspected Informant

Crooked Iain McNicol Revives the Noble Nazi Role of Informer

This is quite clearly a threat to go to the Compliance Unit to people who have engaged with her on FB

UPDATE - Proof Natasha Almark is a Lying Grass & Informer - Do NOT Have Anything to Do with McNicol's Tout
Fancy That - From Lib Dem hater of Corbyn to member of the LP in just weeks!!  

Natasha Allmark
This is not the first time that I have been suspended from the Labour Party.  In 1992 I was suspended in the Kinnock purge which saw about 30 members of Brighton & Hove Labour Party suspended or expelled.

In a further rerun of history, Brighton Labour Party (which then consisted of just the 2 Brighton constituencies not Hove) was also suspended.  This was at the behest of his Nobleness Lord Bassam, who has played a minor bit part role in the current witch hunt.  Bassam is the Labour leader in the House of Lords, who have declared UDI from Jeremy Corbyn.  I shall dig out and put on line a pamphlet I wrote years ago The Noble Sayings of Lord Bassam, which retailed things Bassam had said when he was on the Left.
I recall this because when I was suspended nearly a quarter of a century ago, I was interviewed at the offices of Hove Labour Party by Joyce Gould, Labour's then Witchfinder General.  I had been sent a copy of her investigation report into Brighton Labour Party and it had made interesting reading.  A left wing member of the National Executive Committee, whose name shall not be disclosed, even after all these years, handed it to me.

Lady Gould was not at all amused and asked me who had given it to me.  My reply was to tell Ms Gould that being Jewish she would understand that there is nothing lower in the eyes of Jewish anti-fascists than the informer, the low life who sent thousands of Jews living incognito under Nazi occupation to the gas chamber or the Gestapo torture chamber in return for their own freedom or often not even that.
Although I cannot verify the information I received the following post from someone I trust:

Natasha Allmark. Anyone that have her as a friend block immediately it's been reported to me she's been passing information on to the block squad

I immediately messaged her:

'You will therefore understand why I am unfriending and blocking you.

There is nothing more despicable in life than an informer. Thousands of Jews living incognito under Nazi occupation were betrayed to the Gestapo and thus died in the extermination camps because of informers. If the allegation is correct, as it would appear to be, then you should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself. Doing the dirty work of the corrupt General Secretary of the Labour Party Iain McNicol. As someone already suspended from the LP I am unconcerned about what I write being passed on but that does not excuse you.

It is a sad reflection of the politics of the Right of the LP that people are encouraged to become informers, the lowest of low life'

This is the state of the Labour today as the Right endeavours to win the leadership election by hook and by crook, by removing the right to vote of ordinary members on the most spurious basis.  I therefore advise anyone who is a member of the LP to block this woman immediately and unfriend her.

Tony Greenstein

Friday, 26 August 2016

Palestinian Children – Shackled, Beaten, Not Allowed to See their Parents or a Lawyer – That’s Israeli Democracy

In Hebron there is a very high rate of  murder of Palestinian civilians by the Israeli military
You judge a society, any society by its treatment of its children.  Israel is a society which treats its own, Jewish children very well.  Israeli Jewish children have all the safeguards and protections that one would expect in this country.  But when it comes to Palestinian children then they are shackled when they go to court, when they are interrogated, they are thrown into tiny, stinking cells, they have no automatic right to a lawyer in the military courts of the West Bank, they cannot see their parents as of right.  And the chance of a Palestinian child, or indeed anyone, being acquitted in a Military Court is slender.  Some 99.7% of those who appear in them are convicted.  Even the courts of Stalin and Hitler had higher acquittal rates.

Israel acts and is a police state for Palestinians.  And now the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset has passed a law which will allow all children, including those inside Israel to be arrested and imprisoned from the age of 12.  But there is just one catch.  It will never be used against a Jewish child.  It is purely there to be used against Israeli Arab children who protest or throw stones etc. 
It is normal practice after a child has been held in solitary confinement or beaten for them to be expected to sign a confession in a language, Hebrew, which they don’t understand.  Military courts however have no problem with this.
Yet there are those in British politics, whether it is the detestable Joan Ryan MP, who Chairs Labour Friends of Israel, or Owen Smith MP who defends Israel unconditionally or our own Hove MP Peter Kyle.

The Labour Right and most of the Conservative Party have a blind eye to Israeli human rights abuses in just the same way as they turn a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s genocidal bombing of Yemen.

Tony Greenstein


This brief video illustrates the fear instilled in young Palestinians, mostly boys, arrested by Israeli occupation forces, often during night raids.

Produced by Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCIP), it features 14-year-old Osama, who was taken from his home in the West Bank during a raid at 3am one night.

“It was the worst feeling to be far away from family and friends,” Osama says. He spent four months in an Israeli prison for allegedly throwing stones.

In a report released at the end of July, Human Rights Watch lists Israel among six countries that have adopted far-reaching “counterterrorism” policies that have led to sweeping arrests of children.

Israel joins Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Nigeria and Syria as governments Human Rights Watch describes as “trampling on children’s rights in a misguided and counterproductive response to conflict-related violence.”
“The indefinite detention and torture of children needs to stop,” said Jo Becker, the organization’s director of children rights advocacy.

Not a week goes by when about a dozen to as many as 38 Palestinian children from the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are arrested.

In June, Israel extended administrative detention orders for seven children.

Solitary confinement as coercion
Israel appear to be increasing the use of solitary confinement against Palestinian child detainees to pressure them during interrogations. One 16-year-old boy spent 22 days in isolation.

“The practice of using solitary confinement on children, for any duration, is a clear violation of international law, as it amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and in some cases, torture,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, accountability program director at DCIP.

Israel doesn’t use solitary confinement for disciplinary, protective or medical reasons, according to DCIP’s documentation, but as an interrogation tool.
Children are confined in cells that barely fit a mattress while they undergo lengthy interrogations during which Israeli authorities attempt to extract confessions or more information on other people, according to DCIP.

“The cell was closed tightly and had no windows, except two ventilations gaps,” 17-year-old Rami K. told DCIP.

“The walls were gray, which hurt my eyes, and the surface was coarse, so I could not lean on them. The cell had a sink and a toilet, but the toilet had a nasty smell. The lights were on the entire time.”
Rami was held for 16 days in isolation while being interrogated. The interrogation was drawn out over hours, during which his wrists and ankles were bound to a metal chair.

Blaming Palestinian culture

Israel defended its treatment of children earlier this month, following criticism by several countries at the United Nations Security Council.

Amit Heumann, the legal adviser to Israel’s UN mission, blamed Palestinians for Israel’s treatment of them.

“It is the responsibility of leaders everywhere to protect children at all costs, to protect them from the ravages of war and to shelter them in a protective environment, where children can thrive,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the Palestinians are failing at this most critical responsibility.”
“Instead of nourishing their youth with the dreams of a bright future, Palestinian children are fed a steady diet of hatred for Israel and glorification of violence in the lessons they learn in school, in the sermons they hear in the mosque and in the streets that are named after terrorists.”

Such debunked claims that “incitement” – rather than the reality of Israel’s military occupation – are to blame for violence, have long been a staple of Israeli government propaganda.

In its report, Human Rights Watch criticizes Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children under its occupation regime in the West Bank, where 500 to 700 children are brought before military tribunals annually, and an average of 220 children are held in prison each month.

But the line between Israeli civil and military law regarding children has become increasingly difficult to discern since violent confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli forces escalated in October 2015.

Last week, the Israeli parliament passed a new law allowing the imprisonment of children as young as 12.

Israel’s military regime in the occupied West Bank has always allowed the detention of 12-year-old Palestinians.

According to DCIP’s statistics, of the 440 Palestinian children in Israeli prison in February, 104 were between the ages of 12 and 15. This represents a four-fold increase from the number of young teens in prison prior to October 2015.

And though the law ostensibly applies to Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel alike, it was explicitly created to target Palestinians.

Imprisoning 12 and 13-year-olds will be permitted in cases where the child is convicted of so-called terrorism, a charge that almost exclusively applies to Palestinians.

“This law was born of necessity,” said Likud lawmaker Anat Berko, who proposed the measure. “We have been experiencing a wave of terror for quite some time. A society is allowed to protect itself. To those who are murdered with a knife in the heart it does not matter if the child is 12 or 15.”

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel warns that the Israeli parliament may soon allow life sentences for children under 14.

This is the latest amendment to Israel’s penal code that expands the criminal culpability of Palestinian children in order to allow harsher penalties.

Last year, the Israeli parliament imposed mandatory minimum sentencing and extended the maximum sentence on people who throw stones at traffic.

Israel also revived administrative detention against Palestinian children ostensibly living under Israeli civil law in the last year.

Danger to Rojava as United States Threatens to Stab Kurdish Allies in the Back

Washington stands by Turkey while expecting the Kurds to help fight tough battles against Islamist militants in Syria
The democratic organisation of society in Syrian Kurdistan stands in marked contrast to the Erdogan and Assad dictatorships, ISIS and the Israeli state.  It is a beacon of hope in a region without much hope.  The equality of women, with 40% of its fighting forces made up of women, stands in marked contrast to the feudal barbarism of ISIS and Ahrar al-Sham and the other US sponsored jihadi groups in Syria.

The United States has used the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) of the Kurdish Democratic Party (PYD) as their foot soldiers in the battle against ISIS.  It was always an unholy alliance since the United States is not interested in the liberation of the Kurdish people or indeed any people in the region.
Rojava - Kurdish Autonomous Enclave in Syria

The alliance was however useful for the Kurdish people as the YPG would not have managed to have ousted ISIS from Kobane over a year ago without the help of US air support.  However the US has many other fish to fry in the Syrian quagmire. 

Things are now looking very dangerous for the Kurds and that is why western solidarity with the Kurdish struggle is so important.

The Assad regime, which historically has brutally suppressed the Kurds was forced during the civil war to withdraw from Rojava, the Kurdish autonomous region and even have a non-aggression pact as the Syrian Army came under sustained attack.  With the strengthening by Russia of the Assad regime’s position and the new de facto alliance between Assad and the Turkish dictator Erdogan, the Kurdish position is under direct threat.

It was to forestall the two parts of Rojava uniting that the Turkish military in conjunction with Arab forces under US command has attacked and captured the town of Jarablus from ISIS.  Although this was ISIS’s main outlet to the outside world in Syria, the main purpose of the attack was to forestall the unification of Rojava.  Turkey does not want to seen an independent Kurdish statelet on its border.

This picture taken from the Turkish Syrian border city of Karkamis on August 24, 2016 shows smoke following air strikes by a Turkish Army jet fighter on the Syrian Turkish border village of Jarabulus.Bulent Kilic, AFP
Despite differences between Turkey and the USA, the position of Turkey in NATO is of some importance to the USA, especially given the recent raprochment of Erdogan and the Russians.  The Kurds in other words are facedd with the prospect of a united from consisting of Assad, Erdogan and the Russians to some extent against them.  It was into this configuration of power politics that US Vice President Jo Biden has appeared to make it clear to the Kurds that they should abandon all hope of uniting Rojava and to stay clear of the eastern banks of the Euphrates.  Once again the Kurds are at the mercy of the power play of larger forces in the region, forces they had hoped to play off against each other.  However both Erdogan and Assad have an interest in opposing Kurdish autonomy.  

Erdogan has also, separately, made his peace with Israel and thus stabbed the Palestinians of Gaza in the back too.

I post 3 articles below on recent developments.

Tony Greenstein 

Zvi Bar'el Aug 25, 2016 10:42 PM

Secretary of State John Kerry’s threat was unequivocal. If the Kurds did not pull back east of the Euphrates River, the United States would not help them, he said.

It is unlikely that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is relying on this threat. More important, will the Kurds heed it, and in exchange for what?

YPG in Tel Abyad
One day after the threat, the Kurdish forces also withdrew from Manbij, Syria, one of the Islamic State’s most important strongholds, which had been taken by Kurdish forces under cover of American air support in a battle that won them accolades for their important victory.

“It’s a slap in the face to the Kurds,” Erwin Stran, a U.S. volunteer who fought with the Syrian Democratic Forces against the Islamic State organization, told ARA News, a Kurdish press agency covering northern Syria and the Kurdish areas.
A Turkish army tank and an armored vehicle are stationed near the border with Syria, Karkamis, Turkey, August 23, 2016.IHA via AP 
The SDF was established by the United States as an alliance of Kurdish, Arab and other militias to blur the organization’s Kurdish character — necessary to allow Washington to continue to support the Kurds without overly angering Turkey.

But now it seems that the Kurds are once again paying in blood for the complex and tense relationship between Ankara and Washington.

An official in the Kurdish administration in Iraq told Haaretz that the American threat “conveys a frustrating and dangerous message not only to the Kurds in Syria but to the entire Kurdish people, who are spilling blood in the war against ISIS and were relying on the U.S. government to stand by them."
Pro-Ankara Syrian opposition fighters moving two kilometers west from the Syrian Turkish border town of Jarabulus.Bulent Kilic / AFP

"The Kurdish forces in Syria seek to establish an autonomous region and that is their right," he said. "They paid and are paying a heavy price to create territorial contiguity in Syria that they need to establish an autonomous region.

"That was clear to the Americans from the outset and they said nothing when the Kurds declared Kurdish autonomy in Syria. Now they have decided to stand with Turkey and at the same time they expect the Kurds to continue helping in the war against ISIS.”

Turkey, which has changed its attitude about direct military involvement in Syria after years of helping Islamic State and other extremist militias, is holding a major means of leverage.

The renewal of ties between Turkey and Russia and the establishment of a commission for military, intelligence and political cooperation between the two countries has earned Washington’s support.

But at the same time, Turkey can threaten to withhold cooperation with the United States if the latter allows the Kurds to establish an autonomous region on its border with Syria.

Turkey can also pressure Washington to extradite Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey claims was behind the recent failed coup.

The United States is not anxious to extradite Gulen, but it began legal discussions with Ankara this week to examine the evidence against him and it may be assumed that the threat against the Kurds is part and parcel of efforts to ease the diplomatic tension.

But there are two more heavyweights in this muddy arena. Over the past year, Russia has become an ally of the Kurds in Syria and was even able to mediate between them and the Syrian regime.

The Russian-Kurdish alliance blossomed in the wake of the crisis between Turkey and Russia after the downing by Turkey of a Russian Sukhoi aircraft in November 2015.

But even after the two countries reconciled, Russia did not abandon the Kurds. Last week Moscow initiated a cease-fire between the Syrian regime and the Kurds in the Hasakah region in northeastern Syria.

According to the terms, the Syrians could maintain a symbolic police force in two cities of Hasakah and Qamishli, the two sides would trade prisoners and the dead, and the Kurds would be in charge de facto of security in those cities.

Kurdish government workers who had been dismissed due to the war would return to work and negotiations even began over the “Kurdish problem.”

Ostensibly this was “merely” a local accord, but its special importance is that it strengthened the standing of Russia, which, unlike the United States, can establish a cease-fire, create “areas of quiet” and translate its aerial assaults into achievements on the ground.

According to Syrian media reports, Russia is trying to change Turkey’s position vis-a-vis Syrian President Bashar Assad, and agree to his remaining in office at least until elections can be held.

This initiative has already seen partial success with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim’s declaration that Assad is an important player in the Syrian crisis and Turkey could agree to his remaining temporarily in office.

Iran is trying to encourage Turkey, and worked behind the scenes to further Turkish-Russian reconciliation. Iran sees the axis of Russia-Turkey-Iran leading diplomatic initiatives to resolve the crisis. The importance of this axis to Iran is not only the chance of ending the war, but also to neutralize diplomatic moves by Saudi Arabia, Tehran’s bitter adversary, and to distance Turkey from the Sunni coalition that Saudi King Salman has established. Iran’s realpolitik approach is unimpressed by the fact that Russia is an “infidel” state and that Turkey is Sunni. Iran has already proven that when the need arises, it is prepared to cooperate with any entity that serves its interests, including the United States, with which it signed the nuclear agreement.

But Russian-Iranian rapprochement comes at a political cost. That has recently manifested itself in verbal blows exchanged between Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan and the Speaker of the Iranian Parliament, Ali Larijani, over granting permission for Russian planes to operate from Iran’s Hamedan airfield.

Dehghan said that since permission was only for takeoffs and landings, no parliamentary approval was needed, and that parliament should keep its mouth shut in matters that do not concern it.

Larijani responded that the defense minister “had better avoid statements against parliament and act according to the customs of the regime.”

The problem worsened when Dehghan said the Russian planes had stopped operating from the airfield and Larijani said the opposite.

Russia wants to establish a regular base in Iran for refueling, bomb storage and a large technical team, while for now Iran is willing only to allow landings, takeoffs and refueling. The dispute is wider because Russia is not willing to attack targets of interest to Iran and does not coordinate its flight destinations with Tehran.

This is not a crisis in ties between the two countries, but an arm-twisting effort in the context of Iran’s concern over what it considers Russia’s takeover of Syria. Hence the importance Iran accords the partnership with Syria and its actions now to sort things out over Assad’s future.

According to the Saudi daily Asharq Al-Awsat, Turkey sent a retired general, Ismail Hakki (not to be confused with the former Turkish chief of staff) to Tehran where he met with senior Syrian officials.

Hakki was the Turkish coordinator of the 1998 Adana Agreement that ended the crisis between Turkey and the Hafez Assad regime in Syria over actions of the Kurdish PKK in Syria.

Washington has no contribution at all in any of these moves. At the moment it can only prepare the assault on ISIS in Mosul, Iraq and Raqqah, in Syria.

On those two fronts, its plans depend on massive cooperation on the part of Kurdish forces. We can only watch to see how the Kurds will operate after the slap in the face they received this week. 

Syrian rebels retake town with aid from Turkish tanks, special forces and warplanes. U.S. and Turkey agree to limit Kurdish expansion to east of Euphrates.

Reuters and The Associated Press Aug 24, 2016 7:53 PM

Turkish special forces, tanks and jets backed by planes from the U.S.-led coalition launched their first co-ordinated offensive into Syria on Wednesday to try to drive Islamic State from the border and prevent further gains by Kurdish militia fighters.

Syrian opposition forces said they are in control of Jarablus only hours after Turkey launched a cross-border operation to help them oust the Islamic State group from the border town in northern Syria.

Several rebel factions involved in the fighting announced they had liberated the town from ISIS, but were still fighting small pockets of militants.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the Syrian civil war, says rebels are in almost full control of Jarablus, adding that ISIS had lost its last link to the outside world.

Ahmad al-Khatib, an opposition media activist embedded with the rebels, says they control 90 percent of the town and posted photos of rebels purportedly in the town's center.
funeral for the victims of a suicide bombing in Gaziantep
After the takeover of Jarablus, a Turkish official said the operation in Syria will continue until Turkey is convinced that threats to its national security were neutralized. According to the official, the operation aims to permanently stop the influx of foreign fighters to Syria and cut supply lines to Syrian militias.

The Turkish and Syrian governments said the cross-border incursion on the town on Jarablus was backed by U.S. airstrikes. Hundreds of Syrian opposition fighters also joined the assault. Just hours after the operation began, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden landed in Ankara.

The unprecedented incursion marked a dangerous escalation in the Syrian conflict — and demonstrates the twisted rivalries that run through the war.

This picture taken on August 24, 2016 shows a Turkish army tank driving towards Syria in the Turkish-Syrian border city of Karkamis, in the southern region of Gaziantep. Bulent Kilic, AFP

 The U.S. has long pushed for more aggressive action by Turkey against the Islamic State group. But Turkey's move to thwart Kurdish ambitions puts it on a path toward potential confrontation with Kurdish fighters in Syria who are also supported by the United States and have been the most effective force battling ISIS in northern Syria.

Turkey has been deeply concerned by the advances of the main U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia, known as the YPG, which after months of taking territory from ISIS is poised to control nearly the entire Syrian side of the border with Turkey. The YPG is also linked to Kurdish rebels waging an insurgency in southeastern Turkey.

Speaking in Ankara, Biden backed Turkey's demand for limits on Kurdish expansion. Kurdish forces "must move back across the Euphrates River. They cannot, will not, under any circumstance get American support if they do not keep that commitment," he said.

A senior U.S. administration official said U.S. advisers have been working closely with Turkey on plans for the Jarablus operation, providing intelligence and air cover. The official was not authorized to discuss the military operations publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the military operation aims to prevent threats from "terror" groups, including the Islamic State and the YPG. He said the operation was in response to a string of attacks in Turkey, including an ISIS suicide bombing at a wedding party near the border which killed 54 people.

A senior official with the YPG's political arm warned Turkey will pay the price. Saleh Muslim, the co-president of the Democratic Union Party or PYD, tweeted that "Turkey is in Syrian Quagmire. Will be defeated as Daesh" will be. He used the Arabic language acronym for IS.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused the Kurds have a secret agenda to establish a state. "If his (Muslim) intention had been to fight Daesh then he wouldn't oppose such an operation... And so the PYD's secret agenda is out in the open.”

ISIS-held Jarablus is a key lynchpin in the Turkish-Kurdish rivalry. The town lies on the western bank of the Euphrates River at the point where it crosses from Turkey into Syria.

The YPG and other Syrian Kurds stand on the east bank of the river, and from there they hold the entire border with Turkey all the way to Iraq. They also hold parts of the border further west, so if they ever took control of Jarablus, they would control almost the entire stretch.

Last month, Kurdish forces and their allies scored a major victory, crossing west of the Euphrates to retake the town on Manbij from Islamic State militants. They now say they will push further west to assault the ISIS-held town of al-Bab.

Turkey codenamed its cross-border assault "Euphrates Shield," suggesting the aim was to keep the YPG east of the Euphrates River.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said that in Biden's talks in Ankara, the two sides reached agreement that that the Syrian Kurdish forces "should never spread west of the Euphrates and not enter any kind of activity there."

Cavusoglu said Syrian Kurdish forces must cross back to the east side of the Euphrates as soon as possible. "Otherwise, and I say this clearly, we will do what is necessary."

The Syrian government denounced the Turkish military incursion and called for an immediate end to what it described as a "blatant violation" of Syrian sovereignty. It said Turkish tanks and armored vehicles crossed into Syria under the cover of U.S.-led airstrikes.

Turkey has backed rebels against Syrian President Bashar Assad throughout Syria's civil war. It has conducted small, brief special forces operations in the past.

But Wednesday's assault was its first major ground incursion.

The operation began at 4 A.M. with intense Turkish artillery fire on Jarablus, followed by Turkish warplanes bombing ISIS targets in the town. Then up to 20 tanks and a contingent of special forces moved across the border, according to Turkey's private NTV television and several Syrian opposition activists.

Ahmad al-Khatib, a Syrian opposition activist embedded with the rebels, said some 1,500 opposition fighters were involved. He said the fighters come from the U.S.-backed Hamza brigade, as well as rebel groups fighting government forces in Aleppo, such as the Nour el-Din el Zinki brigade, the Levant Front, and Failaq al-Sham.

Fighters from the powerful and ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham brigade are also present, he said.

Biden's visit comes at a difficult time for ties between the two NATO allies. Turkey is demanding that Washington quickly extradite a U.S.-based cleric blamed for orchestrating last month's failed coup while the United States is asking for evidence against the cleric and that Turkey allow the extradition process to take its course.

But Biden's comments put Washington and Ankara on the same page on limiting the advances by the United States' other main ally in the conflict, the Syrian Kurds.

The capture of the town of Manbij last month from ISIS heightened Turkey's fears. It was seized by the Kurdish-led group known as the Syria Democratic Forces, or SDF. 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.

The Kurdish takeover in Manbij and their stated intention to further encroach on ISIS territory raised the stakes for Ankara, which understood that if it doesn't act now it may find a new Kurdish entity on its border.

Zvi Bar'el Aug 24, 2016 9:48 PM

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“We will cleanse the area of all the terrorists,” declared Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim on the eve of  the Turkish invasion of Syrian territory near the city of Jarablus. But the Turkish definition of terrorists does not relates solely to Islamic State operatives or Al-Qaida; it also includes, perhaps primarily, the Kurdish rebels in Syrian territory that are considered a threat to Turkey.

Herein lies the paradox of the Turkish military operation. Ostensibly it is a reprisal operation for the mortar fire from Syrian territory early this week and the suicide attack that killed 54 people at a wedding in Gaziantep, only a few dozen kilometers from the battle site. But the Islamic State had committed large attacks before without drawing a Turkish invasion of Syria. The main reason for the incursion was to launch a military plan that had already been drawn up to prevent the Kurds from creating territorial contiguity for themselves.

Jarablus is a relatively small city, but its strategic importance lies in its location between two districts controlled by Syrian Kurds that have an enclave controlled by the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) between them. Until now, that enclave has prevented the two Kurdish districts from merging, a move that would provide the geographic infrastructure for establishing a continuous Syrian Kurdish district that could become an independent enclave, like the Kurdish region in Iraq.

That is why for years Turkey ignored – and, according to American reports, even assisted – the logistical traffic of Islamic State fighters and equipment between the little town of Karkemish, in Turkish territory, and Jarablus on the Syria side. Until the Turkish attack that began on Wednesday, Jarablus was the only direct crossing point between the Islamic State enclave and Turkey; this campaign may close that route.

The question is whether Turkey plans to leave a permanent military presence in Syria to prevent the Kurdish rebels from seizing control of the ISIS territory or whether it can succeed in enlisting enough non-Kurdish rebels, particularly from the Free Syrian Army, to act on its behalf.

The Turkish decision was not based solely on the ISIS mortar fire but primarily on developments in the field and the intervention of the great powers. The Kurdish conquest of the city of Manbij, south of Jarablus, and the Kurds’ plan to also capture Al-Bab, south of Manbij, made it clear to Turkey that it was liable to find itself facing a new reality on its border that would be difficult to change if it didn’t act immediately. The cooperation of the United States and Russia with the Kurdish rebels made Turkey realize that it was losing control over what was happening in the region close to its border.

Although Turkey has signed a military cooperation agreement with Russia, Russian aid to the Kurds has not stopped. Russia, which saw the Kurds as a way to aggravate Turkey during the months of crisis between the two countries, believes the Kurds will not oppose keeping the regime of President Bashar Assad in place.

Actually, the military cooperation between Russia, the United States and Turkey created a dilemma for the Turks, who had to decide where their most important interests lie. Is it more important to maintain the ISIS enclave, which split the territory held by the Kurds, or to cooperate in the battle against it?

For now, there is only one solution to this dilemma; to deploy Turkish forces in the field and help the Free Syrian Army seize control of the enclave, in the hope that these forces won’t then cooperate with the Kurdish rebels, who are considered the most effective fighters in the war against ISIS.

The problem is that the Turkish invasion and the involvement of the Free Syrian Army may cause an internal battle between the invading forces and the Kurdish militias and divert the focus of the battles from the war against ISIS to a struggle for territorial gain.

The Turkish invasion interferes with the plans of Russia and the United States, which have declared their desire to preserve Syria as a united entity, but in practice have not categorically rejected the idea of establishing an independent Kurdish zone that they will take under their wing. On the other hand, Russia and the United States cannot stop the Turkish invasion, which has acquired legitimacy because it’s being portrayed as a battle against ISIS.

At the same time, the Turkish campaign publicly demolishes the strategy of non-intervention on the ground that the great powers have been upholding until now. It’s true that a few hundred American fighters and trainers are operating in the field alongside the rebels, Russian ground troops are involved in the fighting and, of course, Iranian forces have been fighting in the Syrian arena for years. But as a declared policy, the powers have stressed that they do not plan to deploy ground troops. The Turkish move is liable to change that approach, particularly since plans to conquer the cities of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria from ISIS are advancing in the background.

Turkey recently came to the realization that its immunity to ISIS attacks on its territory has faded and that the period in which it cooperated with the organization didn’t bring the hoped-for results. It seems that Turkey is also rethinking its strategy and may no longer be so insistent about blocking Assad’s continued rule at any price.

Last week, for the first time, Yildirim said that, “Assad is one of the players in the Syrian arena,” and that he could be allowed to continue his rule temporarily. This approach is based on the desire to keep Syria united in the face of demands to create a federated state in which the Kurds would have an officially recognized independent district.

Despite Assad’s sharp condemnation of the Turkish invasion, he too wants to prevent the establishment of an independent Kurdish district, and would prefer Turkey as a possible partner over the Kurdish or other rebel groups.