Turkey vows not to quit besieged army post in Syria

“We are not there because we are unable to leave but because we do not want to,” says Turkish FM. (AFP)
Updated 24 August 2019

Turkey vows not to quit besieged army post in Syria

  • Calls for a ‘political solution’ to the crisis 

BEIRUT: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Friday said Ankara wants “a political solution to the Syrian crisis,” and that its soldiers “will not leave the besieged observation post south of Idlib” after Syrian regime forces took control of the area.
The recent advances by Bashar Assad’s forces have put Turkish troops stationed in the region in the firing line and displaced hundreds of thousands of people, threatening Ankara’s hopes of preventing a fresh wave of refugees on its southern border.
Speaking at a press conference in Lebanon, Cavusoglu said: “We are not there because we are unable to leave but because we do not want to.”
He denied that the Turkish forces are isolated in Morek, where their largest observation post is based. He said: “This post is not encircled, and no one can isolate it. The Syrian regime forces are leading activities in the vicinity of this post, we are discussing this with Russia and Iran.”
His comments followed a telephone conversation between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. According to the Anatolia Agency, Erdogan told Putin that the “developments in Idlib would cause a major humanitarian crisis” and “undermine the process of reaching a settlement in Syria and pose a serious threat to Turkish national security.”
Cavusoglu met with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.
Rafic Chlala, the media adviser to Aoun, told Arab News: “The Turkish official gave a presentation on the current military developments in Idlib, and a view of the future was delivered, but he did not ask anything from Lebanon.”
During a joint press conference with Bassil, Cavusoglu said: “Turkey will exchange experiences with Lebanon to return Syrian refugees to their country. Ankara understands Beirut’s suffering from the refugee crisis.”
He added: “Syrian refugees are afraid of returning to their country. This fear must be dispelled, and the international community should give greater importance to meeting the basic needs of Syrians.”
Lebanon hosts over 1 million Syrian refugees, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Beirut estimates the real figure is over 1.5 million.
Cavusoglu proposed “to organize a joint forum with Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq on the return of Syrians and invite the international community to participate.”
During his meeting with Cavusoglu, Aoun said: “The international community’s continued disregard for the need for Syrian refugees to return to their country raises many questions.”
According to his media office, Aoun said the return of displaced people to their homes remains a common concern for Lebanon and Turkey. He reiterated that the provision of international assistance to refugees inside Syria is an important incentive for their return.
Aoun added: “Until now, Syrian refugees who have returned to Syria under the supervision of the Lebanese General Security did not suffer any persecution. The process of returning refugees will continue in turn.”
Cavusoglu said that Turkey shares Lebanon’s stance in supporting the return of refugees.
He told Aoun that Turkey will vote for Lebanon to establish the Human Academy for Encounter and Dialogue when the item is submitted to the UN on Sept. 13.
Berri’s media office said that talks with Cavusoglu included “the general situation in the region, the need to uphold the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, the importance of a political solution in Syria that ensures its unity and sovereignty and the return of refugees.”
Cavusoglu said: “Turkey views Lebanon as a neighbor and a sister country. The stability and growth of this country are very important for us and the region. We will continue to support Lebanon, and many Turkish energy companies want to invest there.”
The Turkish president will visit Moscow on Tuesday for a meeting with his Russian counterpart, the presidency said in a statement, days after a Turkish convoy was hit by an airstrike in Syria.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed the Putin-Erdogan meeting on Aug. 27 to the Russian agencies.
 


Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

Updated 36 min 46 sec ago

Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

  • Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades

ANKARA: As Ankara pressed on with its offensive in northeastern Syria amid international criticism, Washington announced some 1,000 soldiers were withdrawn from the zone.

With the US departure, the attention turns to how the regional actors, especially Turkey and Syria, will operate in their zones of influence in the war-torn country where the possible escape of Daesh fighters from prisons could result in more chaos.

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades. The PKK is listed as a terror group by Turkey, the EU and the US.

But, whether some 50,000 YPG fighters will be integrated into the Syrian Army or will try to maintain their autonomy is still a matter of concern.

Mazloum Abdi, commander-in-chief of the SDF, recently wrote for Foreign Policy that the Kurds are finally ready to partner with Assad and Putin.

Yury Barmin, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council, said: “Damascus and the SDF struck a deal at the Russian base in Hmeymim to let the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) enter the Kurdish-controlled area in the northeast and deploy at the Syrian-Turkish border. The SAA is set to take control over Manbij, Kobane and Qamishli.”

However, Barmin told Arab News that a deal between Damascus and the SDF would greatly contribute to a buffer zone that Turkish President Recep Yayyip Erdogan intends to create in northern Syria, allowing Kurds to take some areas along the border without directly antagonizing Ankara. This policy, Barmin added, would be unacceptable to Moscow.

“There are now lots of moving targets and the goal of the Syrian Army — whether it will take some strategic cities or control the whole border along Turkey — is unclear for now. As Russian President Vladimir Putin is on his official visit to Saudi Arabia, his decision for Syria will be clearer when he returns home,” he said.

HIGHLIGHT

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Barmin also noted that Russia let Erdogan operate the Adana agreement to a certain extent, under which Turkey has the right to conduct cross-border operations.

“But now, Russia would like to show Turkey its own red lines in the region,” he said.

However, Navvar Saban, a military analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, said that the Syrian regime is not capable of striking a deal without being backed by Russians, and that Moscow would not want to lose its relationship with Ankara.

“Russians always talk about the Adana agreement. We are now talking about a renewal and reactivation of the agreement with new specifications to allow Turkey to go deeper into Syrian territories. In this way, the Russians will have a bigger chance to allow the Syrian regime and Turkey to communicate. It is something that will open the diplomatic channels,” Saban said.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump tweeted: “Big sanctions on Turkey coming! Do people really think we should go to war with NATO Member Turkey? Never ending wars will end!”

Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said that if the US is completely out of the way, Russia and Turkey will have to either agree or contest each other to take over the US territorial control in northeast Syria. He added that this might be the most crucial race in the coming weeks.

Concerning the diplomatic channels between Damascus and Ankara, Macaron thinks that the channels were and will remain open between Moscow and Ankara since they have common interests beyond Syria.

“If Turkey had no other option, it might have to settle for controlling a few border towns, but this means Erdogan can no longer effectively implement his plan to return Syrian refugees, most notably without funding from the international community. Ankara is more likely to succeed in striking such a deal with Moscow than with Washington,” Macaron told Arab News.

Many experts agree that the Syrian chessboard will be determined predominantly by Russian moves.

“Assad has no say in what will happen next, Russia is the decision maker and there is little the Syrian regime can do unless Iran forcefully intervenes to impact the Russian-Turkish dynamics in the northeast,” Macaron said.