Russia, Iran and Turkey to discuss Syria’s Idlib at Monday summit

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Turkish-backed fighters from Al-Mutasim Brigade take part in a training at a camp near the Syrian town of Marea in the northern Aleppo district, on Thursday. (AFP)
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Russian President Vladimir Putin (2nd L), accompanied by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L), and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (2nd R), accompanied by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) pose during a meeting in Tehran. (File/AFP)
Updated 14 September 2019

Russia, Iran and Turkey to discuss Syria’s Idlib at Monday summit

  • Tripartite meeting will discuss difficult situation in Syria’s Idlib province

MOSCOW: The leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran will discuss the difficult situation in Syria’s Idlib province when they meet in Ankara early next week for a summit, Yuri Ushakov, a senior Kremlin aide, said on Friday. Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani are due to hold talks on Syria in Ankara on Monday. Russia has asked Iran to refrain from any action that could jeopardize saving its troubled nuclear pact after Washington pulled out if it, Ushakov added.

Car bombing
Meanwhile, Syrian opposition activists say a car bombing in a town in northern Syria controlled by Turkey-backed opposition fighters has wounded several people.
There were no reports of deaths in the explosion.

FASTFACT

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani are due to hold talks on Syria in Ankara on Monday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitoring group, said Friday’s blast in the town of Afrin occurred near the offices of a Turkey-backed opposition faction.
Afrin Now, an activist collective, quoted the Civil Defense in the town as saying as many as 25 people were wounded.
Activists also said that shortly after the initial explosion, two mortar shells wounded two people.
Turkey and allied Syrian fighters took Afrin last year, expelling Syrian Kurdish fighters considered terrorists by Ankara.
The Turkish takeover set off a series of attacks against Turkey’s presence in the originally Kurdish-dominated areas.

Fragile truce

On Thursday, airstrikes pounded the south of Syria’s Idlib region, despite a cease-fire that had halted a fierce army offensive against the opposition stronghold two weeks ago.
Government warplanes bombed the south Idlib countryside for the first time since, including Maarat Al-Numan town, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitor, said.
Mohammad Rashid, spokesman for the Jaish Al-Nasr opposition faction, said the raids had intensified after strikes on a few positions in the rural west of Idlib in the past two days.
Idlib, in Syria’s northwest corner, is the last big chunk of territory still in opposition hands after more than eight years of civil war.
Idlib enjoyed a lull in airstrikes after Damascus and its ally Moscow declared a cease-fire on Aug. 31 following five months of bombing which the UN says killed hundreds of people.
This was the second such truce announced there in a month. A cease-fire in early August collapsed within three days, after which the Russian-backed forces of Bashar Assad pressed its offensive and gained ground.
Turkey, which supports some opposition factions, brokered a “de-escalation” deal with Russia in 2017 that sought to curb fighting in Idlib. It does not cover opposition militants.
Opposition fighters said on Wednesday that pro-government forces were massing on the front line.


Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

Updated 15 October 2019

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.