Turks surround Kurdish-held Afrin

Turkish forces said on Tuesday that had surrounded the Kurdish-held city of Afrin, the main objective of Turkey’s offensive into northwest Syria.

A statement from Ankara said the armed forces, along with allied Syrian rebel groups, had also taken control of several key areas.

A Kurdish source confirmed that all road into the city are under attack by Turkish shellfire, reported BBC News.

Reports a day before described hundreds fleeing the city to nearby areas controlled by forces loyal to the Syrian government.

Ankara considers the YPG, or People’s Protection Units, as associated with the Kurdish Workers’ Party terror group in eastern Turkey, a claim Kurds in Syria and their western allies have vehemently denied.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan launched the offensive against Syrian Kurds on Jan. 20, to much condemnation from the United States.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, considered the most effective ground-fighting force against so-called Islamic State, is led and largely made up by Kurds.

The SDF is currently pushing back the last remnants of IS, along with Syrian government forces.

Damascus sent government-loyal troops to Afrin to support the Kurds against the Turkish aggression but it is not clear what their role has been in the last few days.

Kurdish spokesperson Nouri Mahmoud told Reuters news agency that Afrin had long been surrounded on all sides by enemy forces.

The only road out of a siege that was confirmed on Tuesday by the Britain-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights in within the range of Turkish artillery fire and therefore unusable.

The Observatory reported that the city of Afrin, 90 villages and a nearby town were under siege.

The United Nations chief told the Security Council that the battle for Afrin, which is also the name for the territory, had resulted in “significant civilian displacement” with reports of “numerous casualties and damage to infrastructure”.

Some 324,000 were living in the Kurdish enclave before the Turkish offensive launched, according to U.N. figures.


More coverage to follow. Image of forces near Afrin, Syria from Hurriyet Daily News. 

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Florida shooting: 17 killed at high school

A lone suspect in the United States was arrested by police on Wednesday following a shooting at a Florida high school that resulted in 17 killed, according to the Broward Sheriff’s Office.

Authorities confirmed the shooter as Nicholas Cruz, a male aged 19 who was a former student at the school. He reportedly was on campus earlier in the day.

Over an hour after shooting began at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkdale, authorities said the sole suspect was detained, but warned the scene was “still active.”

Superintendent for the the Broward County public system Robert Runcie told reporters that “there are fatalities involved here.”

“So far we have at least 14 victims,” the sheriff’s office reported earlier in the afternoon.

“Victims have been and continue to be transported to Broward Health Medical Center and Broward Health North hospital.”

The suspect was also sent to hospital.

Cruz “wore a gas mask and [had] smoke grenades. He set off the fire alarm so the kids would come out into the hallways,” said Florida Senator Nelson.


Graphic video

Graphic video purportedly from inside the high school during the shooting.


Cruz was arrested by Coral Springs Police about 2 k.m. from the shooting location some 120 minutes after the shooting started, with police working with the premise that there was only one shooter.

Broward County Public Schools said that students were being cleared from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School campus building by building.

The suspect has a social media presence that includes interests in guns and a YouTube chat video that talked about bombs, reported national media affiliates.

A teacher in the classroom where the shooting started was debriefed by authorities.

SWAT responded as shots were heard inside with the Federal Bureau of Investigation on-scene in support.

The Florida shooting marks the twelfth known school shooting in the U.S. this year,

There have been over 300 similar incidents since 2013 which works out to an average of more than one per week.

The Broward County Public School system is the sixth largest in the U.S. and includes  270,000 students and 30,000 faculty at elementary and high school facilities.

U.S. President Donald Trump gave his “prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting”, saying that “no child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.”


Image of the scene from Vox.

 

Turkey continues aggressively shelling Syrian Kurds

Turkey has continued its aggressive shelling of Kurdish militia positions overnight on Friday in northern Syria with the Syrian People’s Protection Units, or YPG, with the militia claiming that 70 shells struck Afrin. 

Ankara considers the Syrian Kurds a terrorist group in league with the PKK, a widely condemned Kurdish terror group active in Turkey’s southeast, and has said for months it would clear YPG fighters from Afrin, under Kurdish control since 2012.

Turkish Defense Minister described the artillery attacks as the “de facto start” of a publicly touted planned invasion of Afrin.

While Turkish diplomats, military officials and intelligence chiefs are in Moscow in an attempt to gain access to the Russian-controlled airspace above Afrin and approval from Iran, the Syrian regime made clear its opposition to a military move.

Damascus, a close ally of Russia, said it would shoot down any Turkish warplanes that entered its airspace, considering a military incursion an act of aggression, according to Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad.

Kurdish leadership said the enclave would be protected by the effective YPG militia, a close ally of the United States-led anti-Daesh (IS) coalition and widely-regarded as one of, if not the most, effective ground-fighting force against the militants.

Tanks, soldiers and other military might from Turkey have amassed near the country’s border with Syria in Kuslaki, north of Afrin.

The YPG called on the international community to stop Turkey from its targeted offensive on what they claim is a population of one million in Afrin.

Since the recapture of Raqqa and the general territorial defeat of so-called Islamic State, the U.S. has worked with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces to create a northern Syrian border security force with training classes already launched.


Kurdish Afrin.jpg

Strained Relations 

Ankara views the YPG as associated with the illegal Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a decades-old insurgency in the country’s southeast.

The Syrian Kurds, however, deny any association with the insurgents, a point backed by Washington and its allies who have provided air support, special forces and supplies to the SDF in a years long campaign to drive Islamic State from Syria.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan, in moves that further strains tensions with the U.S., consistently says that a so-called “terror corridor” will not be allowed to exist, fearing the Kurdish territory in Syria could be a support ground for insurgents.

Ankara has ordered several artillery strikes on Afrin, with the Kurds utilizing rocket fire in response.

Rojhat Roj, a Kurdish spokesman in Afrin, said it was the heaviest Turkish bombardment since Ankara stepped up threats to take military action against the Kurdish enclave.

Roj said the YPG would respond with utmost force to any attack on Afrin.

“Currently there are no casualties, all the damages are material so far,” he explained.

Turkish officials say the Afrin offensive is an extension of it’s anti-Kurdish offensive that ended in March of last year, known as Euphrates Shield.

The operation was an effort to push Islamic State fighters from its border and block Kurdish forces from gaining more territory in northern Syria.


Image of Turkish military in Syria from Middle East Monitor.

Canada co-hosts major North Korea talks

Canada and the United States co-hosted a daylong summit for foreign ministers on the North Korean crisis, with delegates from 20 countries meeting in Vancouver to discuss increased sanctions and a peaceful, diplomatic resolution.

Analysts described the conference, which notably did not include China and Russia, as an effort to reinject diplomacy into a political situation that has only increased in tension and danger.

The gathered countries were mostly made up of countries that fought under the United Nations flag during the Korean War over 60 years previous.

Those attending the closed-door summit stated their condemnation of North Korea’s nuclear weapon ambitions and stated their support for stronger enforcement of current sanctions and a preference for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland promised that “a North Korea that commits to the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of its nuclear program will have a secure place in the international community.”

North Korea, officially known as the Democratic Republic of Korea, has given global security as their reason for intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear weapon testing that has dramatically increased tensions with the United States.

In the closing of the conference, Freeland and U.S. counterpart Rex Tillerson were united in their concerns, reiterating the official stance of both Ottawa and Washington: that a nuclear-armed North Korea would never be acceptable.

Major actors in the DPRK crisis, Russia and China, were not invited to the summit, much to their condemnation.

On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the Vancouver gathering a “pernicious and detrimental meeting”, while China said “Cold War thinking” was behind the gathering.

Spokesman Lu Kang said excluding Beijing from representation at the talks was detrimental in finding a resolution to the situation.

Pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump over 2017 has appeared to have pushed China into following through with many of the multi-lateral sanctions put in place largely by the U.N. Security Council.

Beijing is a key ally of Pyongyang and it number one trading partner, but said only the Security Council and six party DPRK, South Korea, Russia, U.S., Japan and China talks are legitimate avenues of diplomatic efforts.

Canada, the United States, France, United Kingdom, Australia and most of the European and Asian continents have made clear North Korea must stop all nuclear and long-range missile programs.

The effectiveness of the summit in regards to international change is yet to be seen, but the pressure from the aligned powers in their effort to curate “artful diplomacy” could be a start towards peace with North Korea, according to analysts.

Recently, alarms in both Hawaii and Japan went off mistakenly, incorrectly warning residents of a North Korean missile attack.


More details to follow. Image from the Toronto Star.

Pakistan militants kill several at college

The Avro Post

Multiple gunmen assaulted the Peshawar Agriculture Training Institute in Pakistan on Friday, killing at least 13 individuals and injuring a reported 36. 

Four men donning burkas entered the institute mid-morning and opened fire, resulting in the deaths of six students, three others and themselves.

The local Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police said it responded effectively, with “all terrorists neutralised after a successful operation”.

Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. However, Al Jazeera reported the militants said they were not targeting the institution, but rather a nearby Inter-Services Intelligence safe house.

Friday was also the Pakistani holiday of Eid Milad un-Nabi that marks the birth of Prophet Muhammad, leaving the university to be less populated than it would be normally.

Multiple reports say the university would normally have some 400 students on-scene, but there was only about 150 on Friday.

A military operation to regain control of the agriculture training institute…

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