Jordan visit: Erdogan in new push for Syria peace

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talks to supporters after attending Friday prayers in Istanbul. (AP)
Updated 19 August 2017
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Jordan visit: Erdogan in new push for Syria peace

ANKARA: The conflict in Syria will top the agenda when the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives in Jordan on Monday for an official visit at the invitation of King Abdallah.
Jordan and Turkey host millions of Syrian refugees, and take part in regional and international efforts to end the crisis. Jordan supports Turkey’s initiatives to co-broker a cease-fire in Syria through negotiations in the Kazakh capital, Astana. The two countries are also involved in the US-led anti-Daesh coalition in Syria and Iraq.
The two leaders “will discuss the situation in the region, especially in Syria, Iraq and Palestine, during his visit,” Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said. “This visit is important in terms of foreign policy perspective.”
Erdogan will continue with trips to Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and the US in September. The flurry of Turkish diplomatic activity suggests closer cooperation between Turkey, Iran and Russia in Syria, said Gonul Tol, director of the Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute in Washington.
“Jordan has played an important role in the Syrian conflict and lately has been a party to the de-escalation agreement in southern Syria,” she said. “Jordan and Russia have also worked closely in Syria, sharing intelligence and carrying out military aircraft missions.”
Tol said Erdogan’s visit to Jordan was part of that Syria diplomacy, and that Turkey and Jordan might seek ways to tackle challenges in the post-Daesh Iraq.
“Jordan also plays an important role in Iraq. Now that the defeat of Daesh in Iraq is seen as imminent, Iraq depends on Jordan to ensure Iraq’s primary gateway to the world remains open,” she said.
Erdogan’s visit also coincides with the 70th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries, which date to 1947.
The president will be followed to Amman by US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who will travel to Jordan and then to Turkey later this month, the Pentagon said on Friday.
Sharing borders with Syria and Iraq, the Syrian conflict and the advance of militants in the region push Turkey and Jordan to further cooperate because of their internal security calculations.
Turkey and Jordan recently reacted against Israeli restrictions on Palestinians over Al-Aqsa Mosque, and called for the de-escalation of the situation. King Abdallah and Erdogan spoke by telephone on June 24 specifically about the latest developments at Al-Aqsa, and agreed to cooperate on the resolution of the conflict.
Nimrod Goren, head of Mitvim — the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies — said that because Jordan had a formal special status in Jerusalem, it often played a major role in calming the situation between Israel and the Palestinians.
“Jordan did so last month, but this time Turkey also tried to build on its recent efforts to gain influence in East Jerusalem,” Goren said. “While Jordan convened the foreign ministers of the Arab League, Turkey initiated a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.”
Now, with the crisis over, the two countries may be trying to draw lessons. “King Abdallah already visited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and may now be trying to agree on future rules of engagement with Erdogan,” he said. “The Turkish president, on the other hand, is in the midst of regional meetings, with parties who are often at odds with each other — ranging from the Gulf, to Iran, and now Jordan.”
Goren said Turkey was trying to navigate its way in the changing Middle East, which now had several crises, each of which created a different coalition. “Many in Israel are worried by the recent rapprochement between Turkey and Iran, and attribute this to an emerging anti-Israeli axis. Erdogan’s visit to Jordan — a moderate regional actor with peaceful relations with Israel — should lessen such concerns,” he said.
Developing trade and increasing investments are also on the agenda during Erdogan’s visit. Turkey and Jordan enjoy increasing bilateral trade, which has reached $1 billion a year.


Civilians flee fighting in Syrian southwest

A Syrian family rides with belongings on a tractor-drawn trailer as they flee from fighting in the southern Syrian province of Daraa on June 21, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 22 June 2018
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Civilians flee fighting in Syrian southwest

  • Opposition fighters have vowed not surrender “an inch” of the territory to Assad, one of their commanders said earlier this week
  • Fighting in the southwest has been contained since last year by a “de-escalation” deal agreed by the US and Russia, Bashar Assad’s most powerful ally

MOSCOW, BEIRUT: Thousands of people have fled opposition-held areas of southwestern Syria being targeted by regime bombardment, a war monitor said on Thursday, as Damascus steps up attacks on an area near the border with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said some 12,500 people had fled opposition-held areas of northeastern Daraa province in the past 48 hours.
The war has pivoted toward the southwest since the Syrian regime and its allies crushed the last remaining pockets of opposition-held territory near Damascus and the city of Homs.
Fighting in the southwest has been contained since last year by a “de-escalation” deal agreed by the US and Russia, Bashar Assad’s most powerful ally.
A major Syrian regime offensive in the area would risk an escalation of the seven-year-old war. The area is of strategic importance to Israel, which is deeply alarmed by Iranian influence in Syria.
Washington has warned it will take “firm and appropriate measures” in response to violations of the “de-escalation” deal.
Assad said earlier this month the regime, at Russia’s suggestion, was seeking to strike a deal in the southwest similar to agreements that have restored its control of other areas through withdrawals of opposition forces.
But he also said there had been no results yet and blamed “Israeli and American interference.” He said the territory would be recovered by force if necessary. Opposition fighters have vowed not surrender “an inch” of the territory to Assad, one of their commanders said earlier this week.

Russia ‘skeptical’ over UN report
Meanwhile, the Russian foreign minister on Thursday said he was “skeptical” about a UN report accusing the Syrian regime of committing crimes against humanity during the siege of Eastern Ghouta. The report published on Wednesday said forces loyal to the Syrian regime had deliberately starved civilians during the siege between February and April, among other crimes.
“We are in principle very skeptical toward the methods of this sort of work, whether it comes to war crimes or the use of chemical weapons,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference in Moscow with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. When
questioned by journalists, Lavrov confirmed he had not seen the
report.

He said it was “based on data obtained through social networks, video that was filmed by witnesses,” rather than being put together on the ground.
The five-year siege, on the outskirts of the capital, ended in April when Damascus regained control of the rebel enclave.
As pro-government forces dramatically escalated their campaign to recapture the besieged enclave, they used tactics that were “largely unlawful in nature,” the UN-commissioned report said.
The tactics, it said, “aimed at punishing the inhabitants of eastern Ghouta and forcing the population, collectively, to surrender or starve.”
Russia has been involved in Syria’s civil war since September 2015. Its military support of the regime changed the course of the war, allowing government troops to retake more than half the country from rebels and the Daesh group.
More than 350,000 people have been killed in Syria’s war since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.