Erdogan and Putin vow closer cooperation on Syria at Moscow talks

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend a joint news conference following their talks in the Kremlin in Moscow. (AP)
Updated 23 January 2019

Erdogan and Putin vow closer cooperation on Syria at Moscow talks

  • The two leaders are on opposite sides of the Syria conflict
  • Russia and Turkey have agreed to coordinate ground operations in Syria

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a meeting in Moscow on Wednesday vowed to coordinate their actions more closely in Syria.
“Cooperation between Russia and Turkey is a touchstone for Syrian peace and stability,” Erdogan said in translated comments at a joint press conference after their talks, which lasted around three hours.
“With our Russian friends we intend to strengthen our coordination even more.”
“We agreed how we’ll coordinate our work in the near future,” Putin said, calling the talks which included the countries’ defense ministers “effective.”
At the start of their meeting in the Kremlin, Putin addressed Erdogan as “dear friend,” saying that their countries “work on issues of regional security and actively cooperate on Syria.”
Erdogan used the same term for Putin and said “our solidarity makes a weighty contribution to the security of the region.”
The two leaders are on opposite sides of the Syria conflict: Russia provides critical support to the Syrian government, while Turkey has backed rebel groups fighting President Bashar Assad’s forces.
Despite this, they have worked closely to find a political solution to the seven-year conflict.
Russia and Turkey have agreed to coordinate ground operations in Syria following US President Donald Trump’s shock announcement last month about pulling 2,000 American troops out of Syria.
Putin said that if carried out, the withdrawal of US troops from northeastern Syria “will be a positive step, it will help stabilize the situation in this restive area.”
Turkey has also welcomed Washington’s planned withdrawal, but the future of US-backed Kurdish militia forces labelled terrorists by Ankara has upset ties between the NATO allies.
Erdogan had said on Monday he would discuss with Putin the creation of a Turkish-controlled “security zone” in northern Syria, suggested by Trump.
The US-allied Kurds, who control much of the north, have rejected the idea, fearing a Turkish offensive against territory under their control.
Putin said Wednesday that Russia supports “establishing dialogue between Damascus officials and representatives of the Kurds.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week said that Damascus must take control of the north.
The northwestern province of Idlib earlier this month fell under the full control of a jihadist group dominated by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.
The Russian foreign ministry said earlier Wednesday that the situation in the province remained of “serious concern.”
Putin said that the leaders discussed the situation in Idlib “in great detail today.”
“We have a shared conviction that we must continue jointly fighting terrorists wherever they are, including in the Idlib zone,” the Russian leader said.
Erdogan said that the countries will wage a “lengthy fight” in Syria.
Nearly eight years into Syria’s deadly conflict, the planned US pullout has led to another key step in Assad’s Russian-backed drive to reassert control.
Kurdish forces who were left exposed by Trump’s pledge to withdraw have asked the Syrian regime for help to face a threatened Turkish offensive.
The Kremlin hailed the entry by Syrian forces into the key northern city of Manbij for the first time in six years after Kurds opened the gates.
Moscow plans to organize a three-way summit with Turkey and Iran early this year as part of the Astana peace process, launched by the three countries in 2017.
Putin said Wednesday the next summit would be held “in the near future” in Russia, saying the leaders still needed to agree the time and location with Iran.
The last meeting between Putin, Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani took place in Iran in September last year with the fate of rebel-held Idlib province dominating the agenda.
Ties between Russia and Turkey plunged to their lowest level in years in November 2015 when Turkish forces shot down a Russian warplane over Syria.
But after a reconciliation deal in 2016, relations have recovered at a remarkable speed with Putin and Erdogan cooperating closely over Syria, Turkey buying Russian-made air defense systems and Russia building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.


Palestinians say receive Israeli part-payment of overdue taxes

Updated 10 min 29 sec ago

Palestinians say receive Israeli part-payment of overdue taxes

RAMALLAH: The Palestinian Authority, in deep financial crisis since Israel froze tax transfers in February, said Thursday it had accepted a partial payment of just over half a billion dollars.
“An agreement was reached a few days ago with the Israeli side for transferring duties on oil and fuel which the Palestinian Authority bought in Israel to the amount of around two billion shekels ($568 million, 512 million euros),” Civil Affairs Minister Hussein Al-Sheikh told AFP.
Israel in February decided to withhold around $10 million a month from revenues of some $190 million per month it collects on the PA’s behalf, triggering Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to say he would accept either all or nothing.
The deduction corresponds to what Israel says the PA paid Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, or their families.
Prisoners who have carried out attacks on Israelis are among those receiving the payments, and Israel says the policy encourages further violence.
Abbas accused Israel of blackmail and insisted on the full amount, which accounts for around 65 percent of PA revenues.
The money comes from customs duties levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through Israeli ports.
On Monday Abbas fired all of his advisers amid a financial crisis in the occupied West Bank that has prompted deep salary cuts.
Palestinians view prisoners as fighting against Israel’s occupation and say the tax funds support families that have lost their main breadwinners.
The PA has cut salaries for most of its tens of thousands of employees by half to keep the government afloat.
On top of the tax dispute with Israel, the US has cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Palestinians via various programs.