Greece pushes back migrants on Turkish border ‘onslaught’

by Reuters – Saturday, 29 February 2020 13:22 GMT

 

Greece says migrants will not be let in

* Says attempt to breach its borders was ‘organised’

* Turkey says thousands have left country (Adds detail, includes Bulgaria, colour)

 

By Lefteris Papadimas

 

KASTANIES, Greece, Feb 29 (Reuters) – Greek police fired teargas to push back hundreds of migrants gathered on its border with Turkey on Saturday, as a crisis over Syria shifted onto the European Union’s doorstep.

Greece, which has tense relations with its neighbour Turkey at the best of times and was a primary gateway for hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers in 2015 and 2016, described the situation an “onslaught” and said it would keep migrants out.

“Greece yesterday faced an organised, mass and illegal attempt to violate its borders and it withstood this attempt,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas told reporters.

“The government will do whatever it takes to protect its borders,” adding that police at the borders would be reinforced.

Ankara said on Thursday it will no longer contain hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers after an air strike on war-ravaged Idlib in Syria killed 33 Turkish soldiers.

Almost immediately, convoys of people appeared heading towards the Greek land and sea borders.

“This has nothing to do with Idlib,” Petsas said, adding that in the past 24 hours Greek authorities had prevented attempts by 4,000 people to cross the border.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that some 18,000 migrants had crossed borders from Turkey into Europe. Speaking in Istanbul, he did not immediately provide evidence for the number, but said it would rise.

Bulgaria, which also shares a border with Turkey, said it had seen no migrant inflows.

“There is nothing different on our border from what we have seen a year, or two or three years ago,” Prime Minister Poyko Borissov told reporters.

‘TITANIC EFFORT’

A Reuters witness said there were about 500 people in the buffer zone between the Greek and Turkish border posts, and beyond that on the Turkish side, at the Pazarkule border gate, hundreds more.

Overnight, demonstrators hurled flaming pieces of wood at police, amateur footage filmed by a policeman on the scene, which was seen by Reuters, showed. Police fired teargas to keep people back.

An estimated 3,000 people had gathered on the Turkish side of the border at Kastanies, a Greek government official said. Kastanies is just over 900 km (550 miles) north-east of Athens.

“We are making a titanic effort to keep our borders closed to such migration flows,” Panagiotis Harelas, head of border guards in the area, told reporters, showing empty gas cannisters which were hurled from the Turkish side. They had Turkish writing on them.

Nearly a million refugees and migrants crossed from Turkey to Greece’s islands in 2015, setting off a crisis over immigration in Europe, but that route all but closed after the European Union and Ankara agreed to stop the flow in March 2016.

RIVER BORDER

Greece shares a long river border with Turkey, and is a known permeable route for asylum seekers.

Reuters video showed tens of people at a time climbing, and some throwing their bags over a 3-metre (10-foot) fence covered all over with barbed wire along the Greek border in Turkey’s western Edirne province.

A group of Afghans with young children waded across fast-moving waters of the Evros river and took refuge in a small chapel. They crossed into Greece on Friday morning.

“Today is good” said Shir Agha, 30 in broken English. “Before, Erdogan people, police problem,” he said. Their shoes were caked in mud. It had rained heavily the night before, and by early morning, temperatures were close to freezing.

Greece had already said on Thursday it would tighten border controls to prevent coronavirus reaching its Aegean islands, where thousands of migrants are living in poor conditions.

A Syrian man, who did not give his name, said they had been in the border area for two days and were in need of food.

“We’ve been here for two days, We have no food, look at these kids,” he said. (Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul, Tsvetelia Tsolova in Sofia, Bulent Usta in Pazarkule Writing by Michele Kambas Editing by Alexander Smith and Frances Kerry)

(Click to Source)

 

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ANALYSIS: Turkey announces war on pro-Assad coalition in Syria

February death toll in Syria the highest in nearly 2 years as Erdogan all but declares war on Assad’s forces.

Yochanan Visser, 01/03/20 22:42

Tulsi Gabbard, one the Democratic Party’s hopefuls in the race for the Presidency of the United States called him “one of the most dangerous dictators in the world”.

Gabbard was talking about Turkey’s autocratic leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan who’s just declared war on the regime of Syrian tyrant Bashar al-Assad after the latter’s forces killed 34 Turkish soldiers in the northern Syrian Province Idlib.

US President Donald J. Trump “needs to make it clear to NATO and Erdogan that the United States will not be dragged into a war with Russia by the aggressive, Islamist, expansionist dictator of Turkey, a so-called “NATO” ally,” Gabbard wrote on her Twitter account.

The 33 Turkish soldiers who died as a result of an airstrike by Assad’s air force caused Erdogan to lose his cool once again and prompted operation “Spring Shield” after the Turkish army had already lost 55 soldiers to fighting in Syria since the beginning of February.

The new Turkish offensive in Syria and the aggressive moves by the pro-Assad coalition which is trying to re-conquer the last major rebel hub in Idlib have created an unprecedented humanitarian disaster even by Syrian standards.

The violence has driven more than one million Syrians from their homes while hundreds, including many children and women, died in February.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 1,773 individuals were killed in February across the war-torn nation; most of them in the Idlib province. It was the highest single month death toll over the last 23 months of fighting.

The pro-Assad coalition also ‘took out’ 73 hospitals in Idlib by bombing them to smithereens in an old tactic to deprive the mostly Islamist rebels of medical assistance in case they got wounded.

Turkey first tried to stop the advances of the pro-Assad coalition in Idlib by using its local Syrian allies – all of them Islamist rebel groups – but this didn’t have a major impact on the battlefield.

After the Turkish axis seemed to be on the brink of defeat, Erdogan realized he would have to come up with a more powerful military move without risking a major confrontation with Assad’s patron Russia.

The Turkish regime now says it “doesn’t want a face-off with Russia” and that “Our only aim is to stop the Syrian regime’s massacres, radicalization and, migration.”

During the new operation Erdogan’s air force claims to have attacked 200 Syrian targets while his ground forces reportedly “neutralized” 2,200 targets belonging to the pro-Assad coalition which is a predominantly Iranian-Shiite fighting force.

“Some 2,200 Syrian regime troops, a drone, 8 helicopters, 103 tanks, tens of howitzers, 3 air defense systems were neutralized during the operation Spring Shield,” Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said.

Among those ‘neutralized’ were at least “21 Iranian-affiliated terrorists” according to Turkish state-controlled media while 9 members of Lebanese Hezbollah were also killed.

On Monday afternoon, Turkey’s military downed two Syrian warplanes over Idlib after Syria’s official news agency SANA reported that Assad’s forces had downed a number of Turkish drones.

Earlier, Erdogan demanded that NATO, of which Turkey is still a member despite closing military deals with Russia, interfere in the escalating conflict on behalf of his country.

“We call on NATO to (start) consultations. This is not (an attack) on Turkey only, it is an attack on the international community. A common reaction is needed. The attack was also against NATO,” one of Erdogan’s spokesmen told media outlets.

After this call upon NATO apparently fell on deaf ears, the Turkish regime demanded that Russia “get out of Turkey’s way” and leave it “face to face” with the Assad regime.

When that didn’t help either, after the Kremlin pointed out to Turkey that Russian forces are there legally since Assad invited them, Erdogan reverted to other means of exerting pressure on Russia and arrested the editor-in-chief and two reporters of the Russian news site Sputnik.

The Russians subsequently responded by demanding that the detention of the three journalists be resolved “without further delay” and that Ankara safeguard the security of Russian journalists in the country.

The crisis between Russia and Turkey further exacerbated on Monday afternoon when the Turkish army shelled the headquarters of the Russian army command near the border town of Manbij which is controlled by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

Putin and Erdogan discussed the crisis over the telephone without reaching a solution. The two leaders are expected to meet in Moscow on March 5.

Turkey also upped the pressure on the European Union which Erdogan expects to choose sides with his country in the escalating conflict in Syria and finally made good on his threat to deport Syrian refugees to Europe.

According to the state-controlled Anadolu News Agency almost 81,000 of the 3.7 million Syrian refugees in Turkey “voluntarily” traveled to the borders with Greece and other European countries over the past few days.

Reporters belonging to non-Turkish media, however, reported that the refugees were being transferred to the border on government chartered buses.

Most of the refugees are stuck on the border with Greece that refuses to let them in and that shot with tear gas on those who nevertheless attempted to make the crossing.

Greece together with Cyprus has now requested an emergency meeting of the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council to discuss the refugee crisis.

To futher complicate matters, Iran is now reportedly also threatening Turkey and warned the Erdogan regime to leave Syria or have its troops face a missile barrage.

The Islamic Republic’s proxies are, in fact, the ones conducting the ground offensive against the Turkey-backed rebels in Idlib on behalf of Assad. (Click to Source)

 

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Turkish military shoots down 2 Syrian jets as Syria fends off Turkey’s drone attack

1 Mar, 2020 13:41 / Updated 1 hour ago

Turkey has shot down two Syrian warplanes in Idlib as part of its offensive in the area. The Syrian Army destroyed several Turkish drones on the same day Turkey’s UAVs penetrated Syria’s airspace well beyond Idlib.

Turkish fighter jets intercepted two Syrian warplanes over Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib and shot them down, the state-run SANA news outlet reported, adding that both planes’ crews ejected and parachuted to safety.

The Turkish Defense Ministry confirmed it shot down two Syrian Su-24 bombers after one of its combat drones was destroyed by Syrian air defenses. SANA reported that several Turkish unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) violated Syrian airspace and were spotted not just in Idlib but near the city of Hama as well. There, air defense systems were engaged to deal with the hostile invasion.

According to SANA, the Syrian military shot down a total of three Turkish drones on Sunday. Meanwhile, some reports suggested that as many as six UAVs were destroyed. SANA posted a video of one Turkish UAV being brought down near the town of Saraqib, east of Idlib.

A military source told the outlet that the Syrian Army closed the airspace in the northwestern part of the country, including Idlib Province, and that any aircraft entering Syrian skies will be considered a hostile target.

Ankara launched Operation Spring Shield in Idlib on Sunday, describing its task as “self-defense” against the attacks by Syrian government troops on Turkish soldiers maintaining outposts in the area.

Tensions in Idlib flared-up again this week after 34 Turkish soldiers were killed in a Syrian airstrike. Russia said it happened because the Turkish personnel were present alongside terrorist units being bombed by Damascus, and Ankara had failed to properly notify Moscow about its troop movements.

Idlib is the last-remaining stronghold of anti-government forces in Syria, with many belonging to jihadist groups like Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an offshoot of Al-Qaeda. Ankara has long promised to separate the moderate groups it backs from the more radical elements, but Russia insists it has failed to do so. (Click to Source)

 

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Russian plane worth £7m shot down by Turkish-backed forces as military offensive launched

A RUSSIAN reconnaissance plane has been shot down above the war-torn Syrian province of Idlib as a Turkish-backed operation against forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad gets underway.

By SIMON OSBORNE
Initial reports suggest the £7 million aircraft was brought down by Syria’s Turkish-backed National Army. There are also reports the revolutionary faction had destroyed two Syrian government tanks during violent clashes.  The latest developments bring NATO member Turkey and Russian-backed Syria close to the brink of direct confrontation a day after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned the launch of a new military operation was imminent.

Russian warplanes have continued to bombard rebel-held towns in northwest Syria again as Turkish artillery supported insurgent attacks elsewhere across the region.

In Geneva, the United Nations refugee chief called for a halt to the fighting to allow hundreds of thousands of trapped civilians to move to places of safety.

Russia and Turkey back opposing sides in the nine-year-old conflict. The Kremlin, which has supported Mr al-Assad’s push with air strikes against the rebel militia, said a clash between Turkish and Syrian forces would be a “worst-case scenario” and Russia would work to prevent the situation from worsening.

Syrian troops supported by Russian warplanes and special forces have been battling since December to eradicate the last rebel bastions in Idlib and Aleppo provinces in what could be one of the final chapters of the bloody civil war.

But has Turkish troops took up strategic positions across Idlib, Mr Erdogan said he would not leave the region “to the devices of the Assad regime”.

The Turkish leader told MPs: “Turkey has completed preparations for the implementation of its plan on Idlib, just like we did with previous operations.

“Frankly speaking, an operation in Idlib is only a matter of time.

“Turkey won’t leave Idlib to the devices of the Assad regime.”

Tensions in Idlib have escalated further since Turkey and Russia  failed to reach an agreement after two rounds of talks in the last two weeks.

Idlib

A convoy of Turkish military vehicles rolls into Idlib (Image: GETTY)

Idlib

A Turkish tank in Syria’s war-torn Idlib province (Image: GETTY)

 

Syrian opposition forces supported by Turkey have launched large-scale attacks on Syrian government troops last week, particularly on Saraqib and the Nayrab settlement.

The fighting also involved supporters of the Jabhat al-Nusra group which outlawed in Russia.

The Russian-backed Syrian government troops thwarted the attacks and Moscow said the militants suffered substantial losses.

A Syrian government offensive to eradicate the last rebel strongholds in northwest Syria has led to some of the most serious confrontations yet between NATO member Ankara and Damascus, and prompted Turkey to send thousands of troops and convoys of heavy weapons to the border area.

Turkey has taken in about 3.7 million Syrian refugees since the war started and says it cannot handle any more over its border, which is now closed.

The United Nations says more than 900,000 people, mostly women and children, have fled their homes in Idlib since early December.

A Turkish official said recent talks with Russia had not been “completely without a result” and that the discussions had moved forward without reaching a final decision.

The official said: “Russia has maintained its position that Turkey withdraws from Idlib and evacuates its observation posts since the beginning.

Idlib

Turkey had warned of fresh military operations in Idlib (Image: GETTY)

 

“Withdrawing from Idlib or evacuating the observation posts is not on the agenda.”

“Various exercises are being discussed. For example, ensuring security through Turkish and Russian security officials and holding joint patrols could be possible.”

The Turkish Defence Ministry said this afternoon: “As a result of an air attack on our elements in the Idlib region to provide a truce, two of our hero gunmates were martyred and five of our hero gunmen were injured.

“The determined targets have been put under fire and continue to be taken.” (Click to Source)

 

 

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Turkey Asks U.S. for Patriot Missiles to Deter Russia in Syria

 Updated on 

 

  • Revelation followed by more Turkish fatalities in Idlib
  •  Turkey is determined to halt Syrian offensive on rebel bastion

Turkey has asked the U.S. to deploy two Patriot missile-defense batteries on its southern border to free it to punish any future attacks by Russian-backed Syrian troops, according to a senior Turkish official in Ankara.

The disclosure was almost immediately followed on Thursday by a spasm of violence that left two Turkish troops dead and five wounded, and underscored the risks as two regional powerbrokers assert their influence in northwestern Syria.

The fighting increased the number of Turkish troops killed in the Idlib area over the last three weeks to at least 15 as pro-government forces, supported by Russian air power, seek to crush the last major pocket of opposition to President Bashar al-Assad.

The official, who’s familiar with Turkey’s policy in Syria, said Ankara could use F-16 warplanes to strike units loyal to Assad in Idlib if the Patriots were deployed in Hatay on Turkey’s border to provide protection.

‘Worst Scenario’

Turkey is yet to receive a U.S. response to the request, which was relayed last week to James Jeffrey, the U.S. envoy for Syria engagement, the official said, asking not to be identified discussing sensitive information. The U.S. Embassy in Turkey declined to comment. Spokespeople for the White House and U.S. National Security Council didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Turkey’s Defense Ministry said an airstrike was responsible for killing and wounding Thursday’s casualties, without pinning the blame on Russian or Syrian aircraft. Its counterpart in Moscow said in a statement that Russian Su-24 jets had carried out strikes to stop an offensive by Syrian rebels backed by Turkish artillery.

The escalating standoff in Idlib between Russia and Turkey is now developing “according to the worst scenario,” warned Elena Suponina, a Middle East expert based in Moscow.

By lending air support to the Syrian army “Russia has demonstrated it’s ready to respond harshly,” Suponina said by phone. “This signal should be understood correctly by Turkey. It would be good if it pushed the sides toward a compromise.”

Ankara, on the other hand, is also preparing for a possible showdown with Russia.

“Turkey can shut down the straits and its air space to Russia to block military shipments to the regime forces,” said Mesut Hakki Casin, a professor at Istanbul’s Yeditepe University and a member of the foreign affairs board that advises President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in an interview with TRT television.

While Turkey is requesting the deployment of U.S.-operated Patriots, the two countries have wrangled for years over Turkish requests to buy the missiles. The Trump administration has refused to agree to a deal unless Turkey first scraps an advanced Russian missile-defense system it bought last year that Washington considers a threat to NATO’s capabilities.

Turkey doesn’t see the Patriot request — made to a NATO ally at a difficult time for the country — as requiring any concessions on its part, the official said.

Turkey is trying to halt the Syrian government advance because it’s threatening Ankara’s efforts to establish a zone of control in Idlib and could unleash and could unleash an exodus of as many as 2 million refugees toward the Turkish frontier.

It has sent thousands of troops to the area, and President Erdogan on Wednesday said his military had finished preparations for an offensive to protect its interests in Syria.

Trade Ties

Turkey is determined to push back Syrian forces before the end of this month even at the cost of straining ties with Russia in tourism and trade, said the official, adding that about 40,000 Turkey-backed Syrian rebels as well as 20,000 al-Qaeda linked extremists were holed up in Idlib.

Throughout the standoff, Ankara and Moscow have kept channels of communication open in an effort to keep alive their uneasy partnership in Syria, where they are backing opposing sides. But Moscow and Damascus haven’t been deterred by the Turkish troop buildup, and on Wednesday, the Kremlin retorted that a Turkish military operation would be “the worst option.”

The confrontation between the two is threatening a rupture in their relationship and prompting Turkey to reboot ties with the U.S. after years of tensions.

Turkey and Russia are also facing off through proxies in the Libyan conflict.

Turkey has sent thousands of Syrian rebels to shore up the United Nations-recognized administration of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. Lined up against them are hundreds of mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner security contractor, which is controlled by an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. They’ve been hired to support Khalifa Haftar’s now-stalled offensive on the capital, Tripoli, according to Western officials and people close to the organization. (Click to Source)

— With assistance by Ilya Arkhipov, Henry Meyer, and Mario Parker

 

 

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Turkey Edges Toward Direct Conflict With Russian-Backed Syria

Updated: 

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday a military operation by his forces to push back a Syrian government offensive against rebels in northwest Syria was now “a matter of time” after talks with Russia failed to halt the assault.

Turkish troops have already massed inside the Idlib region and more were heading to the border area, bringing NATO member Turkey and Russian-backed Syria close to the brink of direct confrontation.

The Kremlin, which has supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s push with air strikes, said a clash between Turkish and Syrian forces would be a “worst-case scenario” and Russia would work to prevent the situation from worsening.

Syrian troops supported by Russian warplanes and special forces have been battling since December to eradicate the last rebel bastions in Idlib and Aleppo provinces in what could be one of the final chapters of the nine-year-old civil war.

Nearly 1 million civilians have fled from air strikes and artillery barrages towards the closed frontier, overwhelming relief agencies and alarming Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees and says it cannot handle more.

Speaking to lawmakers from his ruling AK Party on Wednesday, Erdogan said Turkey was determined to make Idlib a secure zone even while talks with Moscow continued. Several rounds of diplomacy had failed to reach an agreement so far, he said.

“We are entering the last days for the regime to stop its hostility in Idlib. We are making our final warnings,” said Erdogan, whose country has the second-largest army in NATO.

“Turkey has made every preparation to carry out its own operational plans. I say that we can come at any point. In other words, the Idlib offensive is only a matter of time.”

Erdogan on Saturday appeared to move forward his earlier end-of-February deadline for a Syrian withdrawal from Idlib.

Assad has showed no sign of doing so and has predicted the eventual defeat of his foes. They include Turkish-backed rebels and jihadist militants.

Turkish soldiers

An opposition military source told Reuters that 15,000 Turkish soldiers were now in northwest Syria after numerous convoys had poured into the territory in recent days.

“You can’t imagine the scale of Turkish reinforcements, half of Reyhanli is now full of Turkish commandoes ready to enter Syria,” he said, referring to a Turkish border town. “They are readying their forces for zero hour, operations are expected to start any time.”

Ankara and Moscow signed an agreement in 2018 to establish a de-escalation zone in Idlib allowing both sides to set up observation posts. Since the escalation in the conflict, both sides have accused each other of flouting the agreement.

In Moscow on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Syrian forces were upholding previous agreements but also reacting to provocations.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “If we talk about an operation against legitimate Syrian authorities and armed forces, it is of course a worst-case scenario.”

In the past week the Syrian army has seized dozens of towns around Aleppo and the M5 highway linking Damascus to Aleppo.

It was unclear when Ankara and Moscow might resume talks.

Syrian military defector general Ahmad Rahhal said the talks in Moscow on Monday “were humiliating to Turkey” and had angered Ankara.

“The Russians have made a mistake,” he told Reuters. “We are heading towards a Turkish military operation in Syria but no one knows exactly when… It may start in waves and gradually build up on several fronts.” (Click to Source)

 

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TURKISH ARMY COMMENCES ARTILLERY ATTACKS AGAINST SYRIAN ARAB ARMY AND RUSSIAN BASE IN SYRIA

WORLD NEWS DESK

LATEST UPDATE 4:10 PM EST —  Yesterday, Turkish President Recypt Erdogan said Turkey will not allow Idlib, Syria to come back under control of the Syrian Government, and his Turkish Army would commence attacks to make certain of this.   This morning, RUSSIA warned Turkey that such an effort would result in the Russians DEFENDING Syria.

Eight minutes ago, at 2:52 PM eastern US time, Turkish artillery began shelling Syrian forces in and around Idlib, including Syrian forces which have RUSSIAN TROOPS embedded.

The Turks entered Syria UNINVEITED and WITHOUT AUTHORIZATION almost a year ago.  This new adventure by Turkey will get their forces stomped into the ground by Russian forces, and will likely mean actual HOT WAR between Turkey and Russia.

It has begun.   Multiple sources confirming heavy exchanges of artillery and gunfire.

 

UPDATE 3:21 PM EST —

BREAKING: The Syrian Army just RESPONDED to the Turkish attack and bombed the Turkish observation post, located in Ishtabraq, western countryside of Idlib.

 

 

***** BULLETIN *****

3:24 PM EST 

The Turkish Army is shelling the Syrian city of Latakia, Syria, AND the Russian Naval Base in that port city ! ! ! ! ! !

 

UPDATE 3:28 PM EST —

SYRIAN AIR DEFENSE ACTIVE IN LATAKIA REGION AMID TURKISH ARTILLERY SHELLING — LOCAL SOURCES

 

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3:41 PM EST

3 Russian generals, including the grandson of Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, have been killed by the Turkish attacks against the Russian base at LatakiaSyria

 

MORE . . .

Turkish army is attacking positions of the Syrian Army (SAA) in Saraqib and Nairab in Northern Idlib with MLRS and heavy artillery.

 

UPDATE 4:02 PM EST —

Turkey informs NATO of Idlib operation, asks for enforcement of no fly zone.

 

UPDATE 4:10 PM EST —

Turkish warplanes heading to #Idlib

 

The fighting continues.   Further info via new stories when available. . . (Click to Source)

 

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