Turkey, Russia cooperate in Syria despite differences

Smoke rises following an airstrike on the opposition-held besieged town of Harasta, in the Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of Damascus, on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 14 November 2017

Turkey, Russia cooperate in Syria despite differences

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin held a closed meeting on Tuesday for about four hours, with a focus on deepening their relations and the latest developments in Syria.
It was the sixth time the two leaders had met, and this year Erdogan visited Russia three times.
“Turkey and Russia agreed that grounds have emerged for political resolution in Syria,” Erdogan said during a joint press conference at the presidential residence in Russia’s Black Sea coastal city of Sochi.
Parallel to UN-backed negotiations in Geneva, Turkey, Russia and Iran are the guarantor countries of the Astana deal, and have begun implementing “de-escalation zones” and cease-fire monitoring missions in northern Syria.
During the press conference, Putin said the meetings with Turkey about the Syrian crisis had contributed to decreasing the level of violence.
But before departing for his meeting with Putin, Erdogan criticized a consensus between the Russian and US presidents that “no military solution is possible” in Syria.
“I’m having difficulty understanding these comments. If a military solution is out of the question, then those who say this should pull their troops out,” Erdogan said.
“If a military method isn’t a solution, one should apply to the political method and find ways to go to elections as soon as possible.”
At the end of the meeting, Putin and Erdogan agreed to focus on a political solution.
Nursin Atesoglu Guney, dean of the faculty of economics, administrative and social sciences at Bahcesehir Cyprus University, told Arab News: “During this meeting, both leaders showed a willingness to continue their… partnership in Syria.”
She said: “Russia would like to balance the US weight in the region... Ankara also wants to play a delicate balancing game regarding the big actors in the region, because Syria is currently at the epicenter of global fault lines.”
A point of contention between Moscow and Ankara is the participation of the Kurdish-led Democratic Union Party (PYD) in the Russia-sponsored Syrian Congress on National Dialogue.
No statement was made about it during the press conference, though Moscow recently denied Turkish claims that the Congress had been postponed.
Ankara strongly objects to inviting the PYD, and experts do not expect the issue to be resolved soon.
Moscow does not consider the PYD a terrorist group, and is trying to give it a diplomatic platform.
But Ankara sees it as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and EU. Ankara vetoed the PYD’s participation in previous peace talks on Syria.
Emre Ersen, a Syria analyst at Marmara University in Istanbul, said although Moscow views Ankara as a very important regional actor in resolving the Syrian crisis, it believes the PYD and its military wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), can play a significant role in Syria’s political future.
“Considering the close political and military ties between the PYD/YPG and Washington, it’s important for Moscow to use its developing relations with the PYD/YPG as a potential card at its disposal vis-a-vis the US,” Ersen told Arab News.
Ankara has expressed concerns over military links between Russia and the PYD/YPG in the Afrin region of Syria, he said.
The main motive for Turkey in cooperating with Russia and Iran in the de-escalation zone in Idlib province is the expectation that this cooperation can be extended to Afrin, in which Ankara has stated its intention to launch a military operation against the PYD/YPG, he added.
“At the same time, however, Ankara and Tehran are closely watching Moscow’s dealings with Washington,” Ersen said.
“As indicated by the latest meeting between the Russian and US presidents, the agenda of the two global powers differs significantly from that of the regional powers,” he added.
“Since both Washington and Moscow enjoy close relations with the PYD/YPG, Ankara’s reservations on this issue can be ignored, which might be detrimental to Turkey’s interests in Syria.”

With Hodeidah airport liberated, Saudi Arabia-led coalition accuses Houthis of targeting civilians

Updated 9 min 47 sec ago

With Hodeidah airport liberated, Saudi Arabia-led coalition accuses Houthis of targeting civilians

  • UAE commander confirms Hodeidah airport in Yemen is liberated
  • Houthis have been accused of breaking international law by targeting civilians

JEDDAH: Fighting spread to civilian areas of Hodeidah on Wednesday as coalition forces drove toward the port area after driving the last Iran-backed Houthi militias out of the city’s airport. 

Coalition spokesman Col. Turki Al-Maliki said they had fully recaptured the airport and were now destroying nearby Houthi fortifications. He accused the group of placing tanks inside residential areas.

“Hodeidah port is operating as normal and the movement of ships is normal,” Al-Maliki said. “We have humanitarian and development plans for when we liberate the city.”

Many civilians are now fleeing the city. “The streets are almost empty, deserted,” one said, with most heading for Sanaa, Raymah and Wusab, in Houthi-controlled areas inland.

A Coalition commander also confirmed the liberation of Hodeida airport in a video posted by UAE state news agency WAM.

“The airport was completely cleared, Thank God, and is under control,” the coalition commander for the Red Sea coast, Abdul Salaam Al-Shehi said speaking in Arabic in the video posted on Twitter.



Though the coalition has pledged to try to avoid battles in crowded urban neighborhoods, the Houthis were well dug into Hodeidah to protect the key supply line to the core northern territory they control, including the capital, Sanaa.

Most humanitarian aid to Yemen comes through Hodeidah port, but it is also a conduit for the supply of weapons and ammunition from Iran to the Houthi militias, including missiles used to target Saudi Arabia. 

The UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, said the “liberation of Hodeidah is the beginning to ending the war."

“The choice in Yemen is between the state and militia, between order and violence, between peace and war,” he said.

At least 156 Houthis and 28 soldiers were killed in the fight for the airport, according to Hodeidah hospital sources. That raised the death toll in the week-old battle for the city to 348. No civilian casualties have yet been confirmed.

On June 13, Yemen’s army and its coalition allies launched their offensive to clear Hodeidah of rebel fighters who have held it since 2014. The airport is disused but housed a major Houthi base just inland from the coastal road into the city from the south.

UN envoy Martin Griffiths held four days of talks in the rebel-held capital Sanaa in a bid to avert an all-out battle for the city but flew out on Tuesday without announcing any breakthrough.