Turkey joins Russia and Iran in supporting Syria

Members of the delegations take part in the peace talks on Syria in Astana, Kazakhstan, in this December 22, 2017 photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 25 December 2017

Turkey joins Russia and Iran in supporting Syria

ISTANBUL: Russia, Turkey and Iran have reaffirmed their “strong and continued commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic”.

The three nations issued the statement giving their support after the Astana summit on Dec. 21-23.

As the Russian Foreign Ministry is currently preparing a list of participants to attend a peace congress in Sochi on Jan. 29-30, it also stated that the congress would not be a platform for those wanting the removal of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The list is reportedly being prepared by taking into account the positions of the guarantor countries of the Astana peace process, i.e. Russia, Turkey and Iran.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy to Syria, Aleksandr Lavrentiev, said that if the opposition intends to attend the Sochi Congress to prioritise its insistence on Assad leaving power, then there is no place for it there.

For experts, the removal of the Assad regime is no longer a priority for Turkey considering the latest developments on the ground, but Ankara is trying to handle this delicate process through the transition process.

Serhat Erkmen, a Middle East expert at the Ankara-based 21st Century Turkey Institute, said that for a while now Turkey has not been insistent on Assad removal's from power.

“At the rhetorical level, Ankara didn’t give up from its objective of leadership change. But, considering the actions in Syria, Assad might act as a counterweight to the People’s Protection Units (YPG) considered by Turkey as a terrorist group,” Erkmen told Arab News.

Assad recently showed a harsh reaction against the YPG and considered them “traitors”.

“But currently Ankara negotiates indirectly with the representatives of the Assad regime during Astana meetings,” Erkmen said.

Mete Sohtaoglu, an Istanbul-based researcher on Middle East politics, thinks that Turkey is no longer insisting on the Assad’s removal from power.

“Ankara is planning to remove Assad in an official manner through ballot boxes in and out of Syria, which will be monitored by the United Nations,” he told Arab News.

However, Bora Bayraktar, a Middle East expert from Istanbul Kultur University, said: “Turkey actually did not soften its stance or step back in its rhetoric regarding Assad regime.

“Ankara understood the reality in Syria and changed its priorities,” Bayraktar told Arab News.

“Turkey is trying to solve the regime problem in Syria through the transition process. It doesn’t have a policy of actively pursuing Assad’s removal from power. It supports the opposition and the drafting of the new constitution,” he added.

For Ankara, Bayraktar said, the priority now is its border security and resolving the issue of YPG and its political wing PYD which is seen as a direct threat to territorial integrity due to their links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

As a concession to Ankara, the PYD will reportedly not be invited to the Sochi Congress, but to ensure a broader representation ahead of the political settlement in Syria, other Kurdish representatives will be present.

Syrian refugees wade through their worst Lebanese winter

A child wades through flood waters at an informal tent settlement housing Syrian refugees following winter storms in the area of Delhamiyeh. (AFP)
Updated 18 January 2019

Syrian refugees wade through their worst Lebanese winter

  • Aid organizations say they are doing their best to distribute emergency aid to the most vulnerable
  • The Litani River flooded many of the fields stretching across the two majestic mountain ranges flanking the Bekaa

DELHAMIYEH, Lebanon: Snowstorms and weeks of bad weather have turned Lebanon’s lush Bekaa Valley into an unliveable swamp for tens of thousands of Syrian refugees.

The Litani River flooded many of the fields stretching across the two majestic mountain ranges flanking the Bekaa after this year’s second major storm hit on Wednesday.

Some families had barely finished repairing their tents when the most severe winter they have faced yet unleashed another crushing night of snow, wind and flooding.

“We spent all night emptying the tent but the water kept coming in,” said Thaer Ibrahim Mohammed, a red and white headscarf wrapped around his head.

“This is the worst winter,” said the greying man.

Gaggles of children made the most of the afternoon sun and pulled rubber boots on their bare feet to romp in the camp’s sludgy alleys and have snowball fights.

The shelters in “Camp 040,” which lies on the edge of the village of Delhamiyeh and is one of the many informal settlements that dot the valley, are all the same.

They were erected on concrete slabs and their roofs are held down with used tires.

Their tarpaulin walls provide a flimsy protection against strong winds and freezing temperatures.

The camp looks like it could have sprung up just weeks earlier but many of its residents have lived there since 2012, when the Syrian conflict escalated.

Abu Ahmad, a native of Homs spending his seventh winter in Lebanon, said aid was inadequate.

“This year there was a lot of rain. But humanitarian organizations have reduced aid,” he said, standing on a brick placed as a stepping stone in a muddy puddle.

“You just need to look: Do you think this sheeting keeps us warm or keeps the water out? They gave us nothing, no new tarps, no firewood, nothing,” the young man said.

Aid organizations say they are doing their best to distribute emergency aid to the most vulnerable among the estimated 340,000 refugees living in the Bekaa Valley.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said close to 24,000 people were affected by extreme weather conditions.

Some tents were destroyed by the storms that elsewhere in Lebanon have cut the main road to Syria several times, flooded the highway north of Beirut and forced schools to close.

Relief agencies have had to relocate families who were left homeless, once again, in several feet of snow.

Fatima, a 20-year-old refugee originally from the main northern Syrian city of Aleppo, had to leave her tent with her family but opted to squeeze in with neighbors.

“The tent is totally flooded, we can’t live in it. So we took our things and left, what else can we do?”