Turkish-Western diplomacy intensifies over Idlib

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, right, talks to Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Mass, left, during a visit to the German High School, in Istanbul. Maas is on a two-day visit to Turkey where he met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish officials. (AP Photo)
Updated 06 September 2018

Turkish-Western diplomacy intensifies over Idlib

  • As Ankara and Berlin try to mend ties, Maas tweeted in Turkish upon his arrival that Turkey is a partner of Germany
  • There are fears that an assault on Idlib could lead to 700,000 Syrians fleeing to Turkey and trying to go to Europe from there

ANKARA: There has been heavy diplomatic traffic between Ankara and its Western allies since Russian warplanes began bombing Syria’s Idlib province, which borders Turkey and is home to more than 3 million civilians.

James Jeffrey, US special representative to Syria and a former ambassador to Turkey, visited Ankara on Tuesday, as did German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Wednesday. They met their counterparts to discuss Syria.

US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo spoke with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday.

“Both agreed any Assad regime military offensive in Idlib would be an unacceptable, reckless escalation of the conflict in Syria,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.

As Ankara and Berlin try to mend ties, Maas tweeted in Turkish upon his arrival that Turkey is a partner of Germany.

There are fears that an assault on Idlib could lead to 700,000 Syrians fleeing to Turkey and trying to go to Europe from there.

The Syrian regime, with the backing of Iran and Russia, is gearing up for a major military offensive in the province, which is controlled by various armed opposition groups.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently warned of a potential massacre if missiles are fired into Idlib.

During a joint press conference with Maas, Cavusoglu condemned Russia’s bombing of the province, and said the Turkish and German positions on Syria overlap.

Nicholas Danforth, a senior policy analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Security Project, told Arab News: “The looming regime assault on Idlib represents an ideal opportunity for the US, Europe and Turkey to work together to forestall a strategic and humanitarian disaster.”

He added: “While none are eager to see extremist groups remain in control of the territory, all three have more to lose from a regime takeover that sends militants and refugees flooding into Turkey and perhaps on to Europe.”

Without Western military and diplomatic backing, Turkey would seem to have little choice but to accept, if not help facilitate, the Syrian regime’s plans, Danforth said.

With a trilateral summit between Turkey, Russia and Iran set to take place on Friday, Ankara’s stance on Idlib diverges from that of Moscow and Tehran. The province was originally designated a “de-escalation zone” by the three countries.

Kerim Has, a Moscow-based analyst on Turkish-Russian relations and Eurasian affairs, said Ankara’s increasing contacts with its Western partners may have little, if any, impact on Russian policy in Syria.

“Other than the US and UK, the leading European countries don’t have a strong presence on the ground in Syria,” he told Arab News.

“Europeans’ negotiations with Turkey are mostly related to a possible new refugee influx and a transfer of the jihadist threat to Europe,” he said.

“I think Russia and the EU have similar perspectives on eliminating the terrorist and jihadist threat on the ground without causing mass migration into Turkey and so on.”

The US and UK “may try to disrupt Moscow’s plans in Idlib and Russian-Turkish relations in general, but preventing the Idlib operation doesn’t seem to be a priority for them,” Has said.

He anticipates that at the trilateral summit, Erdogan will ask Moscow for more time to persuade the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham jihadist alliance to lay down its arms, to prevent Syrian regime forces from entering the center of Idlib, and to permit the creation of a safe zone along Turkey’s border with the province for refugees and Ankara-backed rebels.

“But I’m not sure that most of these requests will be welcomed by Moscow,” Has said. “In that sense, I don’t expect a critical or meaningful impact from Turkey’s recent dialogue with its Western partners on Russian plans in Idlib.”

Jumblatt expresses concern over torture of Syrian refugees

Syrian children are pictured at a refugee camp in the village of Mhammara in the northern Lebanese Akkar region on March 9, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 19 March 2019

Jumblatt expresses concern over torture of Syrian refugees

  • UN official stresses ‘urgent need to ensure’ their ‘safe, voluntary and dignified return’
  • Some 215,000 Syrian students are currently enrolled in Lebanon's schools 

BEIRUT: Lebanese Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt has expressed concern about reports that Syrian refugees returning to their country from Lebanon face torture and murder.

This coincides with a debate in Lebanon about whether Syrian refugees should return without waiting for a political solution to the conflict in their country. 

UN Special Coordinator Jan Kubis stressed after meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Monday the “urgent need to ensure the safe, voluntary and dignified return of Syrian refugees home, according to international humanitarian norms.” 

Kubis added: “The UN and the humanitarian community will continue to facilitate these returns as much as possible. Another very important message was also to support the host communities here in Lebanon.”

Mireille Girard, representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), on Monday said: “The reconstruction process in Syria may not be enough to attract refugees to return. We are working to identify the reasons that will help them to return.”

She added: “The arrival of aid to the refugees is an element of trust that helps them to return. Their dignity and peaceful living must be ensured.”

Social Affairs Minister Richard Kouyoumdjian said the Lebanese General Security “issued lists containing the names of refugees wishing to return to their homes, but the Syrian regime accepted only about 20 percent of them.”

He added: “The solution is to call on the international community to put pressure on Russia, so that Moscow can exert pressure on (Syrian President) Bashar Assad’s regime to show goodwill and invite Syrian refugees to return to their land without conditions, procedures, obstacles and laws that steal property and land from them.”

Lebanese Education Minister Akram Chehayeb said: “The problem is not reconstruction and infrastructure, nor the economic and social situation. The main obstacle is the climate of fear and injustice in Syria.”

He added: “There are 215,000 Syrian students enrolled in public education in Lebanon, 60,000 in private education, and there are informal education programs for those who have not yet attended school to accommodate all children under the age of 18.” 

Chehayeb said: “As long as the displacement crisis continues, and as long as the (Assad) regime’s decision to prevent the (refugees’) return stands … work must continue to absorb the children of displaced Syrians who are outside education to protect Lebanon today and Syria in the future.”