Is the conditional cease-fire in northern Syria too good to be true?

Turkey-backed Syrian rebels drive on top of a truck to cross into Syria, near the border town of Akcakale in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, on Thursday. (Reuters)
Updated 19 October 2019

Is the conditional cease-fire in northern Syria too good to be true?

  • If truce conditions are not met, Turkey will relaunch Syria operation ‘in a more decisive manner’

ANKARA: The surprise cease-fire deal between US Vice President Mike Pence and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara has brought a new dimension to the dynamics in northern Syria. Turkey launched the cross-border offensive last week after US President Donald Trump announced he was pulling US forces out of the Syria-Turkey border region.
Ankara’s goal is to push back a Kurdish militia group — the People’s Protection Units (YPG) — that it sees as a terrorist organization. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — a group dominated by the YPG — fought with the US against Daesh in Syria.
On Thursday evening Turkey agreed to a 120-hour pause in military operations against the YPG militia for the next five days to give Kurdish troops time to withdraw from a proposed “safe zone” along its border.
Ankara has agreed to a permanent cease-fire once the withdrawal is complete, Pence told reporters in Ankara after his meeting with Turkish officials.
In return, the US will not impose further sanctions on Turkey and remove the ones imposed last week, although there is still a risk that a bipartisan group of US senators will press ahead with new sanctions.
Erdogan is due to meet President Vladimir Putin in Russia on Tuesday, where further talks are expected about Turkey’s safe zone plans.
“I consider my meeting with President Putin as another element of this (safe zone) process,” Erdogan said Friday. “Turkey wouldn’t be bothered by Assad regime control in towns like Manbij, Kobani and Qamishli if the YPG is completely cleared out.” The question remains whether the cease-fire will hold.
In comments to local television on Thursday night, the SDF’s Gen. Mazloum Kobani said the deal only applied to the area between the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras Al-Ain.
Erdogan announced on Friday that if the conditions in the agreement were not met during the 120 hour-pause, Turkey would relaunch Operation Peace Spring “in a more decisive manner.”
Selim Sazak, a doctoral researcher at Brown University and the research director of Ankara-based consulting firm TUM Strategy, believed the agreement would be implemented and the YPG would withdraw.

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Erdogan is due to meet President Vladimir Putin in Russia on Tuesday, where further talks are expected about Turkey’s safe zone plans.

“The agency of the YPG is fairly limited. If the deal collapses because of the YPG, it’s actually all the better for Ankara,” he told Arab News.
“What Ankara originally wanted was to take all of the belt into its control and eliminate as many of the YPG forces as possible. Instead, the YPG is withdrawing with a portion of its forces and its territory intact. Had the deal collapsed because of the YPG, Ankara would have reason to push forward, this time with much more legitimacy.”

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Tal Abyad and Ras Al-Ain were the easiest link in the second phase of Turkey’s Syrian operation and with the same tactic, he added.
“On the west of the Euphrates, Ankara began by drawing a wedge in the YPG-controlled territory via the Arab-dominant Jarablus and Al-Bab and then opened the wedge toward Afrin on the east and Manbij on the west. The same is happening here. Drive a wedge through Ras Al-Ain and Tal Abyad, open it up toward Kobani on the west and Qamishli on the east.”

Ultimate goal
Sazak said he believed that Ankara was sincere about not having territorial ambitions.
“Its ultimate goal is for the YPG to be pushed away from the border. If that’s the case, it doesn’t matter who controls Kobani or Manbij so long as it’s not the YPG. In the short run, it gives Ankara more time, but in the long run it is probably not an ideal position.”
Dareen Khalifa, a senior Syria analyst at the International Crisis Group, said the cease-fire had unclear goals.
There was no mention of the scope of the area that would be under Turkish control and, despite Pence referring to a 32-km zone in his speech, the length of the zone remains ambiguous, she said.
“It’s unclear if the US only agreed to what (the US special representative on Syria) James Jeffrey and Mazloum described — the 110-km area currently under Turkish control — or to YPG withdrawal from the entire zone, which is over 400 km along the Turkish border,” she told Arab News.
“If it is the former and the YPG is expected only to leave the area where Turkey is already at, then the agreement might stall over divergent interpretations from both sides. I don’t expect Turkey to settle for less when they could push for more.”
Khalifa said if it was the latter and the US agreed to a full YPG withdrawal from a 30-km area along the entire 400-km border strip then the US, in search for a face-saving deal, has decided to capitulate to Turkish demands and claim it is a deal reached through negotiations.


Palestinians, Arabs ‘must learn lessons of Naksa’

A Palestinian man facing Israeli soldiers waves a national flag during a protest against Israel's plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, near the town of Tulkarm on June 5, 2020. (AFP)
Updated 06 June 2020

Palestinians, Arabs ‘must learn lessons of Naksa’

  • Jordanian MP Kais Zayadin said that the biggest mistake Arab countries made was to trust that the occupying state would make peace and reach a lasting solution to the Palestinian cause

AMMAN: Leading Palestinian and Arab figures have used the 53rd anniversary of Naksa — the displacement and occupation of Arab territories that followed Israel’s victory in the 1967 war against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan — to highlight political mistakes made during and after the conflict.

Adnan Abu-Odeh, political adviser to Jordan's King Hussein and King Abdullah II, told Arab News that Arab countries and the Palestinian leadership had failed to understand the goals of Zionism.

“Governments that participated in the war were naive, expecting a repeat of the 1956 Sinai invasion when the US ordered an Israeli withdrawal. This was followed by the mistaken belief that we could liberate the land using guerrilla warfare," he said.

Anees Sweidan, director-general of foreign relations in the PLO, told Arab News that the Palestinian cause is undergoing a complicated phase where political opportunities are limited.

“The US bias towards Israel and absence of unity has put the Palestinian movement in a difficult situation. It is harder to generate external support and the financial crunch is causing much suffering despite the fact that we have made important accomplishments in the UN and Europe.”

Abdalqader Husseini, chairperson of the Faisal Husseini Foundation, said that the opportunities the anniversary offers should not be ignored.

“We need to realize that this is an illegal occupation that continues to dig deeper and escalate every day to the degree that the international community has lost interest and world conscience has become numb to Israeli practices. We in Jerusalem have not normalized with the occupiers and we have not accepted the new situation as an inescapable reality that we must accept.”

Jordanian MP Kais Zayadin said that the biggest mistake Arab countries made was to trust that the occupying state would make peace and reach a lasting solution to the Palestinian cause.

“We went to Madrid with hope, the Palestinian leadership went to Oslo with optimism that they could reach a phased solution that would lead to statehood. As we remember this Naksa, we must revisit the path that has allowed the occupying entity to steal our land and cause havoc to our people without any deterrence from the international community," he said.

They (Palestinian youth) personify the meaning of steadfastness for dignity, and they have the will to protect our heritage, our identity, and our holy places.”

Mahdi Abdulhadi, head of PASSIA thinktank

Nibal Thawabteh, director of the Bir Zeit University’s Media Development Center, said the biggest mistake since 1967 was focusing on politics and avoiding community development.

"We don’t have a strong sense of citizenship, some have become accustomed to religious Islam. We need to work more on the citizenship.”

Ahmad Awad, director of the Amman-based Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies, said there is a lack of acknowledgment of the reasons behind the Arab loss.

“Political, economic and cultural factors caused our loss, and we feel that most Arab countries have not learned this lesson. Instead of learning, we are going backwards, failing to defend their existential rights, shifting to isolationism as well as cultural and economic regression in our region."

Instead of looking backward, some Palestinians wanted to look forward.

Mahdi Abdulhadi, head of the PASSIA thinktank in Jerusalem, said that Palestinian youth who never felt the shock of the 1967 defeat but have seen the exposure of Arab regimes in the face of the "deal of the century" will prevail.

“They personify the meaning of steadfastness for dignity, and they have the will to protect our heritage, our identity, and our holy places.”

Lily Habash, a Exeter University political science graduate, told Arab News that things look different on the ground.

“The world is changing and Israel uses geopolitical and regional changes to its advantage,” she said.

Dangers today encourage despair but Palestinians will be steadfast in the long term, she added.

“Some say we need a savior to get us out of this dilemma but I believe we need to trust in ourselves and work on all fronts.”