France urges end to offensive against Kurdish militia

French Defense Minister Florence Parly leaves the Elysee palace, following a recent Cabinet meeting in Paris. (AFP)
Updated 22 January 2018
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France urges end to offensive against Kurdish militia

PARIS: French Defense Minister Florence Parly has pressed Turkey to stop its offensive against Kurdish militia fighting in Syria, saying the fighters were a key ally against terrorism in the war-torn country.
“This fighting... must stop,” Parly told France 3 television, adding that the Turkish offensive could “deter Kurdish forces who are at the side” of the international coalition battling terrorists in Syria.
Her comments came as Turkish ground troops entered northern Syria on Sunday to push an offensive against the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara considers a terror group.
But Parly said the Kurdish militants had been a crucial ally in fighting extremists such as Daesh.
“Our priority is the fight against terrorism,” Parly said.
“As a result, anything that could deter the fighters of this battle is a bad thing.”
She added: “What is essential is the fight against terrorism and all this fighting, notably that which is taking place in a terrible fashion near Idlib and elsewhere, must stop.”
The Turkish campaign risks further increasing tensions with NATO allies including the US, which has supported the YPG in the fight against Daesh.
Operation “Olive Branch,” in the Afrin region, is Turkey’s second major incursion into Syria during the seven-year civil war.
The army said Daesh was also being targeted in this operation although it no longer has any major presence in the Afrin area.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had repeatedly vowed that Turkey would root out the “nests of terror” in Syria of the YPG, which Ankara accuses of being the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The PKK, which has waged a rebellion in the Turkish southeast for more than three decades, is regarded as a terror group not just by Ankara but also its Western allies.
France has called for a UN Security Council meeting over “humanitarian risks” as fighting escalates in Syria, its Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Sunday in Algiers.
“France is very preoccupied by the situation in Syria and by the brutal degradation of the situation,” Jean-Yves Le Drian said.
“This is why we have called for a Security Council meeting to evaluate all the humanitarian risks, which are very serious,” he said on the sidelines of a meeting for western Mediterranean countries.
Le Drian spoke to his Turkish counterpart in a telephone call on Sunday morning, his staff said.
The French minister also mentioned tens of thousands of Syrians trapped in a besieged rebel stronghold outside Damascus, Eastern Ghouta, which has come under deadly regime bombardment this week.
He spoke of tens of thousands more forced to flee fighting between Russia-backed regime forces and terrorists in the northwestern province of Idlib.
Le Drian called for a halt to fighting and demanded access to humanitarian aid for all.
Idlib and Eastern Ghouta were two of four “de-escalation zones” agreed last year by rebel backer Turkey and regime allies Iran and Russia.
“It is important that everything be done for the cease-fires to be applied very soon and that a political solution finally be embarked upon,” he said.


Russia ‘trying to help Syrian refugees to return home’

Russian soldiers distribute aid in the central Syrian province of Homs. (File/AFP)
Updated 17 August 2018
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Russia ‘trying to help Syrian refugees to return home’

  • A buffer zone separates Syria to the east, from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to the west
  • The Russian military police have set up four observation points along the demarcation line on the Syrian side of the buffer zone

MOSCOW: The Russian Defense Ministry said it was coordinating efforts to help Syrian refugees return home and rebuild the country’s infrastructure destroyed by the civil war.
Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev said in a conference call that included Russian and Syrian officials that work is underway to rebuild dozens of Syria’s power stations, schools and other vital institutions.
In Damascus, Syrian Public Administration Minister Hussein Makhlouf pledged the regime would protect refugee property rights and grant returning refugees a year’s deferral from military conscription.
“The Syrian government is working to simplify procedures for refugees who return, repair housing and try to create new jobs,” Makhlouf said, adding that the authorities were also working to streamline legislation to facilitate refugee returns.
He dismissed as hostile “propaganda” claims that some refugees were facing arrests on their return.
Makhlouf called on Western nations to drop their sanctions against Damascus, introduced early in the seven-year conflict, in order to help post-war restoration and encourage the return of the refugees.
Mizintsev said that over 1.2 million of internally displaced Syrians and about 300,000 refugees have returned in the past two and a half years.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian President Vladimir Putin might take part in a summit with the leaders of Turkey and Iran at the beginning of September.
The three leaders met in April at a summit in Ankara where they discussed developments in Syria.
With help from its Russian ally, President Bashar Assad’s regime has expelled fighters from large parts of Syria’s south since June.
Israel has repeatedly pledged to prevent Iran from establishing a military presence along its border. A series of airstrikes that killed Iranians inside Syria have been attributed to Israel.
A buffer zone separates Syria to the east, from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to the west.
The Russian army’s Lt.-Gen. Sergei Kuralenko told reporters on an organized press tour this week how “stability” had returned to the buffer zone.
Apart from “a few problems with Daesh” in its southern tip, the demilitarized zone was “entirely under control of Syrian military police,” Kuralenko said.
“Everything is ready” for the return of UN troops, he said, after the peacekeepers were forced to withdraw in 2014.
After retaking most of the two southern provinces adjacent to the buffer zone, regime forces last month raised their flag inside, above the key border crossing of Quneitra.
The Russian military police have set up four observation points along the demarcation line on the Syrian side of the buffer zone, Kuralenko said, and plan to set up four more in the near future.
They are “willing to hand them over to the UN if it says it is ready to ensure the monitoring of the Golan alone,” he said.