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France: Raqqa fall not end of battle against Daesh

Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters ride atop military vehicles as they celebrate victory in Raqqa, Syria, in this October 17, 2017 photo. (REUTERS)
PARIS: President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday that France’s military would continue its fight against Daesh in Syria, but that the fall of the militant group’s bastion in Raqqa needed to lead to an inclusive political system to restore stability.
“The battle against Islamic State (Daesh) did not end with the fall of Raqqa and France will maintain its military effort as long as necessary,” Macron’s office said in a statement. “The challenges of stabilization and reconstruction will not be less than those of the military campaign.”
In a declaration formally announcing Raqqa’s liberation from Daesh after four months of battles, the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on Friday that Raqqa would be part of a decentralized federal Syria.
France has supplied weapons to the SDF, has special forces operating in the region and has been one of core countries bombing militants as part of the US-led coalition.
The statement also said it was vital that governance in Raqqa respected all communities.
“This principle should apply first and foremost to the city of Raqqa, under conditions that will enable the restoration of normal living conditions, the return of the displaced and refugee populations, and the sustainable return of peace and stability,” the statement said.
The fight against Daesh has taken place amid a wider, multisided civil war between the government of President Bashar Assad, who is backed by Iran and Russia, and an array of opposition groups supported by other powers.
“Syria must finally find a way out of the civil war, which has fueled terrorism since the suppression of the democratic movement by the Bashar Assad regime. A negotiated political transition is more necessary than ever,” the statement said.
Turkey said on Friday that a huge banner of jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan unfurled in central Raqqa by US-backed Kurdish forces would further harm already fraught relations between Ankara and Washington.
The banner of Ocalan was raised on Thursday at a ceremony to mark Raqqa’s capture from Daesh in a campaign spearheaded by Kurdish Syrian YPG fighters, with military support from the US.
Turkey considers the YPG to be an extension of Ocalan’s Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey’s southeast and is designated a terrorist organization by the US, EU and Turkey.
Ankara says that weapons supplied to fighters in Syria have ended up in PKK hands, threatening Turkish security.
“I wonder what more evidence the US needs to accept that the ... YPG is a terrorist organization,” Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters as he left a mosque in Istanbul.
“Displaying a photograph of the PKK terrorist leader damages US-Turkey relations very seriously. With this move, the US is not only cooperating with terrorists, but they are endangering the future of Syria.”
The banner of Ocalan was raised on Thursday by an all-female Kurdish militia. Kurdish YPG commanders and fighters were also shown chanting “Long Live Apo!,” as Ocalan is known by his followers, in a video of celebrations distributed by the YPG press office.
President Tayyip Erdogan echoed Yildirim’s condemnation.
“How can the US explain the poster of Ocalan in Raqqa? Is this the way they are cooperating with us in the struggle against terror?” he said. “You are not standing by us against terrorism. You wouldn’t allow this if you were.”
Ocalan has been in jail in Turkey since 1999 on a treason conviction. He negotiated a truce from his prison cell, but the cease-fire broke down two years ago and thousands have died in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey in renewed violence since then.
The banner incident comes amid a diplomatic spat between Ankara and Washington over the detention of a Turkish employee of the US Consulate in Istanbul that has seen the two countries suspend visa services for each other’s citizens. The US praised local Syrian forces for the “milestone” victory, but warned the war against the terrorists is far from over.
“The liberation of Raqqa is a critical milestone in the global fight against ISIS (Daesh),” the State Department said in a statement congratulating the SDF and other forces.
But the “loss of Raqqa does not mean our fight against ISIS is over,” it added.
“The global coalition will continue to draw on all elements of national power — military, intelligence, diplomacy, economic, law enforcement, and the strength of our communities until all Syrians have been liberated from ISIS brutality and we can ensure that it can no longer export its terror around the world.”
The US-led coalition of nations that has been providing air support and training to local ground forces also sent congratulations.
“We are still fighting the remnants of (Daesh) in Iraq and Syria, and will continue to facilitate humanitarian efforts assisting citizens adversely affected by a brutal occupation, who face a long battle to gain their freedom,” Lt. Gen. Paul Funk, who heads the coalition, said in a statement.
“A tough fight still lies ahead.”

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