Kurds begin talks with Assad regime on the future of Syria

Residents of the Syrian town of Douma use a small vehicle to carry humanitarian aid distributed by relief workers and the United Nations as part of a humanitarian assistance provided by France in the region of Eastern Ghouta on July 26, 2018. (Louai Beshara/AFP)
Updated 29 July 2018

Kurds begin talks with Assad regime on the future of Syria

  • The two sides have agreed to form committees to discuss an end to the violence
  • The committees will chart a roadmap to a democratic, decentralized Syria

QAMISHLI, Syria/JEDDAH: Kurdish leaders have begun talks with the Assad regime in Damascus on the future of Syria.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a military alliance backed by the US that controls about a quarter of the country in the north and northeast, has agreed with the regime to form joint committees after initial discussions on Thursday and Friday.

The aim is to create a “road map leading to a democratic and decentralized Syria,” said the Syrian Democratic Council, the SDF’s political wing.

“It is still very early to talk of an agreement but we are working on it,” said Sihanouk Dibo, an adviser to the main Kurdish group, the Democratic Union Party (PYD). “The negotiations will be long and arduous because the Damascus regime is very centralized.”

The talks are expected to infuriate Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has launched three full-scale military operations in northern Syria in the past two years against the YPG, the Kurdish militia that spearheads the SDF.

Assad regime forces fled Kurdish-majority areas in 2012, a year after the Syrian civil war began, and the Kurds set up their own administrations there.

The SDF formalized the new administrative arrangements in 2016 with the creation of autonomous cantons in areas under its control that it regards as a model for a federal system nationwide.

The Assad regime officially opposes Kurdish self rule, but Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said last year a “form of autonomy” was “negotiable.”

Bashar Assad said in May he was prepared to open talks with the SDF but remained ready to use force if necessary to ensure the return of regime troops and state institutions to SDF-held areas.

He has described the Kurdish administration’s democratic bodies in the northeast as “temporary structures.”

Analysts said talks between the Kurds and the Assad regime faced hurdles.

“It’s hard to see how they will reach more substantive agreement in the coming months because you just have a huge gap between the two sides on what the future of this region should look like,” said Noah Bonsey, the International Crisis Group’s senior analyst on Syria.

An umbrella group representing other opposition forces in Syria has said it wants to hold talks with the regime on reform demands of its own,
but its bargaining power has been greatly reduced by its loss of territory in recent months.

Arab anger over ‘theft of occupied Golan Heights’

Updated 28 min 11 sec ago

Arab anger over ‘theft of occupied Golan Heights’

  • Israel seized part of the Golan during the 1967 Six-Day War, subsequently annexing it in 1981
  • US President Trump officially recognized Israel's sovereignty of the Golan Heights on March 25, 2019

JEDDAH: Arab states on Monday condemned US President Donald Trump’s recognition of the occupied Golan Heights as Israeli territory.

The decision “does not change the area’s status” as illegally occupied territory, Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said.

Breaking decades of international consensus, Trump signed a proclamation at the White House on Monday recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the border area that Israel seized from Syria in 1967. 

Syria said the decision was a blatant attack on its sovereignty. 

“Trump does not have the right or the legal authority to legitimize the occupation,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

Opposition chief Nasr Al-Hariri said Trump’s decision would “lead to more violence and instability, and it will have negative effects on efforts to engineer peace in the region.”

Lebanon said the move “violates all the rules of international law” and “undermines any effort to reach a just peace.”

“The Golan Heights are Syrian Arab land, no decision can change this, and no country can revisit history by transferring ownership of land from one country to another,” the Foreign Ministry said.