Barr criticizes LGBT curriculums without opt-outs

Attorney General William Barr expressed opposition to LGBT curriculums that do not provide opt-out provisions for those who oppose it on religious grounds. 

He also expressed his belief that religious schools should be allowed to turn away teachers who are in same-sex marriages in a speech on Friday at Notre Dame’s law school

“Many states are adopting curriculum that is incompatible with traditional Judeo-Christian principles. … They often do this without any opt-out provision for religious families,” Barr said.

He particularly cited laws in New Jersey, California and Illinois requiring an LGBT curriculum. 

“The Orange County Board of Education in California issued an opinion that ‘parents who disagree with the instructional material … may not excuse their children from this instruction,'” he said, lamenting that in some cases parents are not “warned” about the material. 

“For anyone who has a religious faith, the most important part of exercising that faith is teaching that religion to your children,” he said. “For the government to interfere in that process is a monstrous invasion of religious liberty.”

Barr also cited support for schools that do not hire teachers in an LGBT marriage, citing the example of a teacher who sued Indianapolis’s Catholic Archbishop.

“Right here in Indiana a teacher sued the Catholic Archbishop of Indianapolis for directing the Catholic schools within his diocese that they could not employ teachers in same-sex marriages,” he said. “This lawsuit clearly infringes on the First Amendment rights of the archdiocese by interfering both with its expressive association and with its church autonomy.”

[The Hill]

Trump Gloats About Shep Smith’s Fox News Exit

The question from a reporter to President Donald Trump on Friday night was, “Did you or your administration pressure Fox News to get rid of Shepard Smith?” 

Trump did not answer directly, but rather took the opportunity to gloat over his least-favorite Fox News anchor’s departure, saying, “No, I don’t know, is he leaving? Oh, that’s a shame.” 

“Did I hear Shepard Smith is leaving?” the president asked, soundly almost gleeful. “Is he leaving because of bad ratings? He had terrible ratings, is he leaving because of his ratings? If he’s leaving, I assume he’s leaving because he had bad ratings.” 

Smith, who has been the rare critical voice against the president on Fox, announced on Friday that he had requested to get out of his contract on leave the network, effective immediately. “Even in our currently polarized nation, it’s my hope that the facts will win the day,” Smith said in his final broadcast. “That the truth will always matter, that journalism and journalists will thrive.”

The move comes just two days after Attorney General Bill Barr met privately with Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch, prompting some speculation that the Trump administration had something to do with Smith’s exit. 

“Well, I wish him well,” Trump concluded. “I wish Shepard Smith well.” 

[The Daily Beast]

Media

Trump appears to do bizarre impression of FBI agent having sex

Donald Trump appeared to perform an impression of former FBI agent Peter Strzok and attorney Lisa Page having sex while the president was in the middle of a speech during a rally in Minnesota on Thursday.

Mr Trump slammed his hand on the podium and shouted “I love you, Lisa,” and “I love you too, Peter” before moaning “Lisa, I love you, Lisa! Lisa! Oh, God, I love you Lisa!”

The president had previously called Mr Strzok a “sick loser” amid investigations by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian meddling in US elections. Mr Mueller removed Mr Strzok from his team after discovering anti-Trump text messages between Mr Strzok and Ms Page, who had an affair.

The president has falsely claimed that the texts had been deleted and has frequently argued that the messages amount to “corruption” within an investigation that followed Hillary Clinton’s loss in the 2016 presidential election.

At his Minnesota rally, Mr Trump continued to mock the text messages: “And if she doesn’t win, Lisa, we’ve got an insurance policy, Lisa: we’ll get that son of a bitch out.”

[The Independent]

Media

Trump says Fox News ‘doesn’t deliver for US anymore’ after poll shows rising impeachment support

President Trump said on Thursday that Fox News “doesn’t deliver for US anymore” after the network’s latest poll showed growing support for his impeachment and removal from office.

“From the day I announced I was running for President, I have NEVER had a good @FoxNews Poll,” Trump tweeted. “Whoever their Pollster is, they suck. But @FoxNews is also much different than it used to be in the good old days.”

A Fox poll released Wednesday found 51 percent of respondents supported Trump’s impeachment and removal from office. Four percent of participants said the president should be impeached but not removed, and 40 percent were completely against impeachment. 

Trump on Thursday also lashed out at prominent Fox News employees who have been critical of him and his interactions with the president of Ukraine, which is at the heart of an impeachment inquiry by House Democrats. 

“@FoxNews doesn’t deliver for US anymore,” Trump tweeted. “It is so different than it used to be. Oh well, I’m President!”

He ripped retired Judge Andrew Napolitano, who argued that Trump had already confessed to a crime when he admitted to encouraging the Ukrainian president to look into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son.

Trump claimed that Napolitano, Fox News’s senior judicial analyst, wanted to be on the Supreme Court but that he turned the judge down. Politico reported in 2017 that Napolitano had told friends he was on Trump’s shortlist of potential nominees.

The president also ripped Fox News anchor Shepard Smith and contributor Donna Brazile. Trump has targeted both before, as Smith regularly fact checks or rebuts statements from the president during his hourly program and Brazile is the former interim leader of the Democratic National Committee.

Trump has had a hot-and-cold relationship with Fox News in recent months. He has complained about several of the network’s polls that showed him trailing his Democratic challengers in potential 2020 matchups and regularly lashes out at employees who are critical of him.

He tweeted in August that the cable network “isn’t working for us anymore” and that his supporters “have to start looking for a new News Outlet.”

But the president still regularly tweets out quotes from Fox News programming, his aides appear on Fox for interviews and former White House staffers have taken jobs at the network.

Moments after his criticism of Fox on Thursday, the president retweeted posts from Fox Business Network anchor Maria Bartiromo multiple times.

[The Hill]

Trump administration owes the United Nations $1 billion

President Donald Trump brushed aside warnings from the United Nations on Wednesday that the 74-year-old organization risks being unable to pay its staff and bills if member nations don’t cough up their annual dues soon

The biggest delinquent payer in the world? The United States. 

Washington owes the U.N. $381 million in back payments and $674 million this year, according to the U.S. mission to the U.N. As the largest contributor to the 193-member organization, the U.S. has long sought to pressure the U.N. to rein in spending. 

Trump, who has openly questioned the value of the U.N., has made skepticism of multinational organizations a central component of his foreign policy. Trump has demanded European countries contribute more to NATO and has pressed allies in Asia and the Middle East to rely less on U.S. military might and spend more on their own security. 

Responding to reports of deep U.N. budget deficits, Trump returned to the theme. 

“So make all Member Countries pay, not just the United States!” he wrote Wednesday

U.N. officials say 129 countries have paid their 2019 dues, two-thirds of all members. Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, said that nearly $2 billion has been paid to the organization this year and that the outstanding balance for other countries amounts to another $1.3 billion. 

Dujarric described the financial situation as “the worst cash crisis facing the United Nations in nearly a decade” and said it “runs the risk of depleting its liquidity reserves by the end of the month and defaulting on payments to staff and vendors.”  

Created in 1945 on the heels of World War II, the United Nations charter tasked the organization with ending conflict and human rights abuses. Its real power lies in the 15-member Security Council, which can authorize sanctions and military action.

The U.S. has quarreled with the U.N. for decades over funding. A U.S. mission official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal decisions, said the U.S. paid $600 million to peacekeeping efforts this year and will pay “the vast majority of what we owe to the regular budget this fall, as we have in past years.”

But the longstanding tension has received renewed attention because of Trump, who once described the U.N. as “not a friend of democracy” and has consistently questioned multinational efforts such as NATO and the annual G-7 and G-20 summits.   

Trump spent three days in New York last month for the annual U.N. General Assembly, pressing his case for sovereignty while also seeking support from allies to address a suspected Iranian attack on Saudi Arabia. Despite the international audience, Trump has used his U.N. addresses to speak more to domestic audiences. 

[USA Today]

Trump defends abandoning the Kurds by saying they didn’t help the US in WWII

President Donald Trump on Wednesday defended his decision to abandon the Kurds to a Turkish military incursion in Syria by saying they didn’t help the US during World War II. 

This came amid reports that Turkish ground troops were crossing the border into Syria after air strikes that began earlier in the day.

“They didn’t help us in the Second World War; they didn’t help us with Normandy,” Trump said of the Kurds. He added, “With all of that being said, we like the Kurds.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Trump said in a statement released by the White House that he did not endorse the Turkish military operation and thought it was a “bad idea.” But he did not refer directly to the Kurds or signal any immediate response from the US to thwart Turkey’s actions. 

The Trump administration on Sunday abruptly announced the US was withdrawing troops stationed in northeastern Syria ahead of a Turkish operation.

The move has been broadly condemned in Washington, including by top congressional Republicans and former Trump administration officials, as many feel Trump paved the way for Turkey to go after key US allies. 

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) bore the brunt of the US-led campaign against ISIS, losing about 11,000 fighters in the process.

Ahead of the Trump administration’s announcement, Kurdish forces had recently dismantled defensive positions along the Turkey-Syria border under assurances from the US it would not allow a Turkish assault. The SDF described Trump’s decision to withdraw troops as a “stab in the back” and made clear it felt betrayed by the US. 

[Business Insider]

Trump lies the military was “out of ammunition” when he took office

On Monday, President Donald Trump told an especially silly lie about the state of the United States military when he took office. But the way this particular lie evolved over the past month says something about how fast and loose Trump is with reality more broadly.

During a press conference, Trump — rambling on about his decision to withdraw troops from Syria — took credit for rejuvenating the military, but in so doing rewrote history by claiming that Obama literally left it with no ammunition. His source for this claim was an unnamed “top general.”

“When I took over our military, we did not have ammunition,” Trump said. “I was told by a top general, maybe the top of them all, ‘Sir, I’m sorry sir, we don’t have ammunition.’ I said, I will never let that happen to another president.”

In reality, the United States spent $611 billion on the military in 2016. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), a veteran who serves on the House Armed Services Committee and was first elected to Congress in 2016, noted Trump’s comments were “not true.”

“I get briefings as a member of the House Armed Services Committee on our munitions stockpile all over the world,” Gallego tweeted. “We have never run out of ammunition.”

Of course, a full fact-check isn’t needed to see Trump’s comment as the absurdity that it is. But it is interesting to trace how Trump has embellished this particular tall tale since he first told it on September 16.

On that day, Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that when he took office, General Jim Mattis — his future defense secretary, and presumably the “top general” Trump referred to on Monday — told him the country was “very low on ammunition.”

“You know, when I came here three years ago almost, General Mattis told me, ‘Sir, we’re very low on ammunition. I said, ‘That’s a horrible thing to say,’” Trump said. “We were in a position where with a certain country — I won’t say which one — we may have had conflict. And he said to me, ‘Sir, if you could, delay it, because we’re very low on ammunition.’ And I said, ‘You know what, general, I never want to hear that again from another general.’”

Note how that tale was slightly less outlandish than the one Trump told Monday. It is true that President Obama slimmed down the armed forces, a decision that was viewed unfavorably by a large swath of the troops when he left office. It’s also true that Trump has increased military spending. So, charitably speaking, there is a kernel of truth to what Trump was saying.

But within hours, Trump starting pumping up whatever kernel of truth existed until it was no longer recognizable.

Trump held a rally on September 16 in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. There, he told the same story he told in the Oval Office earlier in the day, but in a slightly exaggerated form. Instead of being “very low on ammunition,” in the new telling, the country had “very little, slash, no ammunition” when he took office.

Four days later, the story had been exaggerated once again. During a September 20 news conference, Trump claimed the military “didn’t have ammunition” when he took office — the same lie he told on Tuesday.

In sum, Trump started with an exaggerated story that was already absurd, but then gradually inflated it even more until the final product become one of his most outlandish lies. In this case, the subject matter is relatively trivial — nobody really believes the military was out of ammunition when he took office — but the chain of events illustrates how broken Trump’s truth barometer is, and serves as a disturbing reminder about how little the president’s word can be trusted on more important matters.

The comment about ammunition wasn’t even the only time Trump’s propensity for absurdity was on display during the Monday media availability. Trump closed things out by claiming that “my polls went up I think 17 points in the last two or three days.” In fact, Trump’s approval rating has barely budged from being 12 points underwater.

[Vox]

Trump Is Feuding With the Mayor of Minneapolis Over Security Costs for His Rally

The Trump campaign is locked in a battle with Minneapolis after the city insisted the president’s team cover $530,000 in security costs for a rally later this week.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that city officials told the Target Center, where Trump is planning to hold a re-election rally, that it would have to cover the security costs. The company that manages the arena, AEG, then reportedly passed those costs on to Trump’s campaign, which has now threatened legal action if it’s not assured by Tuesday that the arena would be available for the rally later in the week.

The Trump campaign also slammed Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, a Democrat, saying he was using the rally to boost his profile.

“This is an outrageous abuse of power by a liberal mayor trying to deny the rights of his own city’s residents just because he hates the President,” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement. “People want to hear from their president, and no mayor looking to beef up his resume for a run for higher office should stand in the way.”

Frey has been a critic of Trump, and when it was announced that Trump would hold a rally in the city, he said the president’s “message of hatred will never be welcome in Minneapolis.”

Frey got into a spat with Trump on Twitter on Tuesday, after the president said the “lightweight mayor is hurting the great police and other wonderful supporters.”

“Yawn… Welcome to Minneapolis, where we pay our bills, we govern with integrity, and we love all of our neighbors,” wrote Frey in response.

The Trump campaign has come under fire for not paying its costs in the past. A report from the Center for Public Integrity in June revealed that Trump’s campaign owed city governments at least $841,219 in unpaid bills for public safety–related expenses.

There’s no legal obligation for campaigns to cover the costs that cities incur during rallies, but they are allowed to use campaign funds to do so. Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal told the Star Tribune that “it’s not fair” for residents to have to cover security costs at events.

“It doesn’t matter who the candidate is or what the event is. If it’s anticipated that there will be a need for additional response … a source of revenue for that needs to be found,” she told the paper.

[Vice]

Trump suggests Pelosi committed treason, should be ‘immediately impeached’


President Trump
 late Sunday suggested that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was guilty of treason and should be “immediately” impeached.

“Nancy Pelosi knew of all of the many Shifty Adam Schiff lies and massive frauds perpetrated upon Congress and the American people, in the form of a fraudulent speech knowingly delivered as a ruthless con, and the illegal meetings with a highly partisan ‘Whistleblower’ & lawyer,” he tweeted.

“This makes Nervous Nancy every bit as guilty as Liddle’ Adam Schiff for High Crimes and Misdemeanors, and even Treason. I guess that means that they, along with all of those that evilly ‘Colluded’ with them, must all be immediately Impeached!”

Members of Congress cannot be impeached, but the Constitution says each House of Congress “may determine the Rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member.” Members may also be censured.

Trump last week ratcheted up attacks targeting House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) for exaggerating a partial transcript of the July 25 call between the president and Ukraine’s leader.

At the time, Trump suggested that Schiff should be arrested for treason, which is punishable by death or a prison term.

During a televised congressional hearing, Schiff said that Trump directed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to “make up dirt on my political opponent” a full “seven times.”

The California Democrat defended his comments amid backlash from Republicans at the time, saying: “Of course, the president never said, ‘If you don’t understand me I’m going to say it seven more times,’ my point is, that’s the message that the Ukraine president was receiving in not so many words.”

It was also reported last week that the whistleblower at the center of a House impeachment inquiry into Trump contacted Schiff’s committee before filing a complaint.

Trump’s attacks late Sunday came shortly after reports emerged of a second whistleblower said to have firsthand knowledge of some of the allegations detailed in the original complaint.

Mark Zaid, an attorney at the firm that represents the whistleblower who filed the original complaint regarding Trump’s interactions with Ukraine, said that he was representing the second whistleblower.

Zaid said the second whistleblower is also an intelligence official and has direct knowledge of some of the allegations detailed in the original complaint.

According to Zaid, the second whistleblower has already spoken to the head of the intelligence community’s internal watchdog office, Michael Atkinson. However, they have not yet spoken with congressional committees investigating Trump’s communications with Ukraine.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham defended Trump after reports surfaced of the second whistleblower and said “it doesn’t matter how many people decide to call themselves whistleblowers about the same telephone call.”

She also said that it “doesn’t change the fact that he has done nothing wrong.”

[The Hill]


Trump pulls troops from northern Syria as Turkey readies offensive

The United States began withdrawing American troops from Syria’s border with Turkey early Monday, in the clearest sign yet that the Trump administration was washing its hands of an explosive situation between the Turkish military and U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters.

President Trump, in a series of Twitter messages Monday, suggested that the United States was shouldering too much of the burden — and the cost — of fighting the Islamic State. He rebuked European nations for not repatriating citizens who had joined the extremist group, claiming that the United States was being played for a “sucker.” And he chided his own Kurdish allies, who he said were “paid massive amounts of money and equipment” to fight the militants. 

“It is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home. WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN,” he tweeted.

Trump later added a warning to Turkey. “As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!),” he tweeted.

“They must, with Europe and others, watch over the captured ISIS fighters and families,” Trump continued. “The U.S. has done far more than anyone could have ever expected, including the capture of 100% of the ISIS Caliphate. It is time now for others in the region, some of great wealth, to protect their own territory. THE USA IS GREAT!”

The withdrawal followed a late Sunday statement by the White House that the United States would not intervene in a long-threatened Turkish offensive into northern Syria. The announcement, which signaled an abrupt end to a months-long American effort to broker peace between two important allies, came after a call between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

Erdogan said in a speech Monday that the withdrawal began soon after their phone call.

A U.S. official confirmed to The Washington Post that American troops left observation posts in the border villages of Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn at 6:30 a.m. local time.

In an initial reaction to the pullout, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a strong Trump supporter, indicated on Twitter that he was seeking more information on the president’s decision. But he added, “If press reports are accurate this is a disaster in the making.”

The fast-moving developments threatened a fresh military conflagration in a large swath of northern Syria, stretching from east of the Euphrates River to the border with Iraq. Syrian Kurds had established an autonomous zone in the area during more than eight years of Syria’s civil war.

Ankara, however, has been increasingly unnerved by the Kurdish presence, and by the close ties between U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a militant group that has fought a long insurgency against the Turkish state.

For months, Erdogan has been threatening an imminent invasion, as Trump administration officials attempted to work out an accommodation that would satisfy Turkish demands for border security while providing a measure of protection for the U.S.-allied Syrian-Kurdish force.

But on Sunday, the United States appeared to throw up its hands. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said the Turkish leader would “soon be moving forward” with dispatching troops to battle the Kurdish forces, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF. Ankara views the group as a terrorist-linked entity, but the SDF has fought closely alongside the U.S. military as a primary partner against the Islamic State. 

“The United States armed forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial ‘caliphate,’ will no longer be in the immediate area,” Grisham said in a statement. ISIS is another name for the Islamic State, the militant group whose rise drew the U.S. military into Syria. 

The SDF, in a statement critical of the United States, said the American troops have begun pulling out.

“The United States forces have not fulfilled their obligations and withdrew their forces from the border area with Turkey,” the statement said. “This Turkish military operation in north and east Syria will have a big negative impact on our war against Daesh and will destroy all stability that was reached in the last few years.” Daesh is an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.

It added that the group reserves the right to defend itself against Turkish aggression.

Erdogan, who has portrayed a Turkish incursion as necessary to protect his country’s borders, has spoken in recent weeks of resettling millions of Syrian refugees in Turkey in a “safe zone” in northern Syria, a plan that has been criticized by refugee advocates as well as local Syrian Kurds who could be displaced by such a proposal.

On Saturday, Erdogan said the invasion, dubbed Operation Peace Fountain, could begin “as soon as today or maybe tomorrow.”

U.S. officials depicted the impending offensive, and the U.S. troop withdrawal, as a dramatic turn after their prolonged attempt to hammer out an arrangement that would allay the Turks’ concerns about Syrian Kurdish forces close to their border, while also averting a battle they fear will be bloody for Kurdish fighters whom the Pentagon sees as stalwart allies. 

Military officials point out that Kurdish assistance is still required to avoid a return of the Islamic State in Syria and to guard facilities where Islamic State militants and their families are being held. 

A senior U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an evolving situation, said the U.S. government “has no idea” what the Turkish operation would look like, whether it would be a small, symbolic incursion or a major offensive intended to push as far as 25 miles into Syria. 

 U.S. officials said an operation deep into Syria could further jeopardize the security of prisons holding Islamic State fighters. “There are many potential disastrous outcomes to this,” the official said.

The White House announcement comes only two days after the Pentagon completed its most recent joint patrol with Turkish forces, a central element of the U.S. effort to build trust in northern Syria. But similar patrols and other measures overseen from a joint U.S.-Turkish military hub in southern Turkey have not reduced Ankara’s impatience to establish the buffer zone it has envisioned. 

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper described ongoing U.S.-Turkish cooperation in northern Syria, saying that his Turkish counterpart had agreed in a call last week “that we need to make the security mechanism work.”

In negotiations, the United States had said it would agree to a strip along the border to be cleared of Syrian Kurdish fighters and jointly patrolled by the United States and Turkey on the ground and in the air. That strip is about five miles wide, only about a quarter of what the Turks have demanded.

The joint patrols are taking place in only about a third of the border length, with the idea of gradually expanding them. In addition to not liking U.S. terms for the agreement, Erdogan believes the United States is dragging its feet in implementing it.

“Mr. Trump gave the order; he ordered to pull out. But this came late,” Erdogan told reporters in Ankara on Monday. “We cannot accept the threats of terrorist organizations.”

Erdogan’s plan to send up to 3 million Syrian refugees into the 140-mile-long strip also runs counter to what the United States says was part of the agreement they had reached to allow only the 700,000 to 800,000 refugees who originally fled the area to resettle there. Turkey currently hosts more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees, but the government has recently begun deporting hundreds back to Syria as public sentiment turns against the migrants.

Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for Erdogan, wrote on Twitter that Turkey has no interest in occupying or changing the demographics in northeastern Syria and that the “safe zone” would serve two purposes: secure Turkey’s borders and allow refugees to return home.

After months of warning about the turmoil such a move could create, U.S. officials said they are now watching Turkey’s actions closely to inform their own decisions about how quickly they must move the hundreds of troops expected to be affected. 

“We’re going to get out of the way,” another U.S. official said. 

There are about 1,000 U.S. troops in northeastern Syria. 

The SDF also predicted that Islamic State fighters would break out of prison camps the SDF manages in different areas of Syria.

The potential for greater risk to Islamic State prisons and camps comes after months of unsuccessful efforts by the Trump administration to persuade countries in Europe and elsewhere to repatriate their citizens.

The White House statement said that “Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters” in that area. “The United States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the United States taxpayer,” Grisham said. 

Erdogan said Monday that Turkey has “an approach to this issue” of ISIS, without specifying what it was.

The United Nations is also concerned about the impact that any Turkish operation would have on the protection of civilians in northeastern Syria, Panos Moumtzis, U.N. regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, said in a telephone interview.

“We want our message to all governments and actors on the ground to be to make sure that this latest development does not have an impact first of all on a new displacement of people,” he said.

The United Nations already provides services to approximately 700,000 people every month in the northeast. Moumtzis emphasized the importance of freedom of movement of civilians and ensuring the continuation of access to humanitarian groups. He stressed that any movement of Syrians must be done voluntarily and with safety and dignity.

“We have not had any specific instructions on” the safe zone, he said, adding that the United Nations has a contingency plan depending on how wide and deep the safe zone would be.

Turkey’s latest possible incursion comes nearly two years after Ankara launched a military offensive on Afrin, in northern Syria, in an operation that was also criticized as a distraction from the fight against the Islamic State.  

The contested legacy of Turkey’s Afrin offensive has hovered over Erdogan’s latest military plans. Ankara has argued that its past foray into Syria brought stability to parts of the north and provided a safe haven for hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. But over the last year, human rights groups have documented abuses by Turkish-backed militias in Afrin — mistreatment that they say has included kidnappings and arbitrary detentions.

And many of the refugees who returned to Afrin — which has suffered from mysterious militant attacks, including car bombs — ended up fleeing back across the border into Turkey, according to advocates for the refugees.

Kurdish leaders have accused Turkey of trying to settle Arabs in historically Kurdish lands. Arab residents, in turn, have accused the Kurds of carrying out ethnic cleansing in areas they control.

“We thank the Americans for their decision to withdraw from northern Syria, not because we hate the U.S. but because we are fed up with the SDF,” said Abu Musafir, a member of the Manbij Tribal Council, a confederation of Arab tribes in the region.

“We are fed up with the SDF’s racism, detentions, kidnappings and compulsory conscription of underaged boys and girls,” he said. “The situation was bad, and the area was on the verge of imploding.” 

[Washington Post]

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