Turkey intensifies operation in Syria’s Idlib

Children wave Turkish national flags near soldiers during a demonstration on Tuesday in support of the Turkish army’s Idlib operation near the Turkey-Syria border near Reyhanli, Hatay. (AFP)
Updated 11 October 2017
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Turkey intensifies operation in Syria’s Idlib

ANKARA: There was fierce fighting on Tuesday between Turkish-backed units of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) in Syria’s north-western province of Idlib.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said his country’s military operations in jihadist-controlled Idlib aim to prevent a potential influx into Turkey.
Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli said Turkish soldiers would remain in Idlib until threats against Turkey are dealt with.
While Ankara had long supported rebels fighting the Syrian regime, it is now concentrating on securing Turkey’s southern border against possible terrorist infiltration, and on thwarting territorial gains by the Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Ankara considers the YPG an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is outlawed in Turkey and has waged a bloody war against the state for more than three decades.
On Sunday, a team from the Turkish Army entered Idlib to carry out reconnaissance activities and determine the location of surveillance posts before the creation of a “de-escalation zone,” the Turkish military said.
After Operation Euphrates Shield to clear the border of Daesh and roll back Syrian-Kurdish territorial gains, this is the second time the Turkish Army conducts an operation in Syria, this time with Russian air support.
Ankara is determined to prevent Syrian Kurds from creating a strategic corridor between the cantons of Kobani and Afrin.
In the framework of the Astana peace talks — brokered on Sept. 15 between Turkey, Russia and Iran to establish de-escalation zones — Ankara will create control points in Idlib for future deployments.
The presence of observers is expected to prevent violations of the cease-fire agreement, and to pacify internal conflicts between militant groups and civilians. HTS is spearheaded by a former Al-Qaeda affiliate, and is not party to the deal.
Turkish opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu on Tuesday announced a six-point summary of the stance of his Republican People’s Party on the Idlib operation, and emphasized the need to protect the lives of Turkish soldiers in Syria.
Mete Sohtaoglu, an expert on extremist movements, said Turkey’s efforts in Idlib are unlikely to go smoothly.
“There are various and competing armed groups in Idlib whose only common denominator is standing against the Assad regime,” he told Arab News.
“No armed resistance occurred during the entry of Turkish troops into Idlib, but these groups don’t want to see in Idlib any rebel faction that fought alongside Turkey in Euphrates Shield.”
Sohtaoglu said the establishment of the de-escalation zone in Idlib aims to provide safety for about 2 million civilians in the region.
“In contrast to Euphrates Shield, this cross-border deployment intends to persuade various armed groups to halt fighting and restore peace,” he added.
“The fate of Afrin, which is controlled by the YPG, will be determined by the joint efforts of Russia and Iran,” he said.
“Moscow is trying to create a pro-regime regiment to counterbalance the YPG presence there,” Sohtaoglu added.
“Turkey’s only contribution on this issue has been preventing Syrian Kurds from reaching the Mediterranean.”
Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, head of the Ankara-based think tank ANKASAM, said the Idlib operation reflects Turkey’s determination and common stance with neighboring countries to bring stability and peace to Syria
“The next step is Afrin. With these operations, Turkey intends to end the civil war in Syria, which requires the eradication of the Syrian branch of a potential Kurdish state,” Erol told Arab News.
“In that regard, the Idlib operation doesn’t only mean eliminating a terror corridor along Turkey’s southern border. It’s also a step to terminating a greater project to destabilize the region.”


Syrian Kurdish-led council visits Damascus for new talks

Updated 47 min 12 sec ago
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Syrian Kurdish-led council visits Damascus for new talks

  • A delegation including members of the US-backed SDF held talks with Damascus earlier this month
  • The visits highlight efforts by the Kurdish-led authorities to open new channels to President Bashar Assad’s government

BEIRUT: The political wing of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has been to Damascus for a second round of talks with the state, the pro-government Al-Watan newspaper said on Tuesday.
A delegation including members of the US-backed SDF, which controls roughly a quarter of Syria, held talks with Damascus earlier this month, their first declared visit to the capital.
The visits highlight efforts by the Kurdish-led authorities to open new channels to President Bashar Assad’s government, as they seek to negotiate a political deal that keeps their autonomy within Syria.
The SDF is spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, which has mostly avoided conflict with Assad and says its aim has been to secure Kurdish rights rather than topple the government.
This has set them apart from rebel factions fighting to topple Assad since 2011, which have now been defeated in much of the territory they once held.
The Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) went for new talks on local administation and decentralization, Al-Watan cited its co-chair Riad Darar as saying on Tuesday.
“All the discussions happening now are ... to find out the other side’s point of view,” he said. The talks “need a lot of reflection to make decisions, and so the matter was left to other meetings.”
Such negotiations could raise new questions for US policy in Syria, where the US military has deployed into SDF territory during the battle against Islamic State.
The SDF seized swathes of land with US help, though Washington opposes their aim of regional autonomy. The region they control spreads across much of northern and eastern Syria, rich in farmland, oil, and water.
Damascus says the US forces are occupiers. For the first time, Assad said in May that he was “opening doors” for talks with the SDF, but also threatened force and said the Americans would leave one way or another.