Syria calls for Turkish pullout in ‘positive’ talks between spy chiefs

Turkish and Syrian intelligence chiefs reportedly discussed the cease-fire in the opposition-controlled Idlib province (AFP)
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Updated 15 January 2020

Syria calls for Turkish pullout in ‘positive’ talks between spy chiefs

  • The meeting could mark a turning point in Turkish opposition to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s handling of the country’s eight-year civil war

ANKARA: The heads of Turkish and Syrian intelligence on Monday held their first official talks in years, with Damascus calling for Ankara to immediately withdraw its forces from Syrian territories.

Experts believe the “positive” meeting, which took place on the sidelines of peace negotiations in Moscow, could mark a turning point in Turkish opposition to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s handling of the country’s eight-year civil war and open the door to cooperation against common targets.

Michael Tanchum, a senior fellow for the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy, said Turkey’s acknowledgement of the talks hinted at the possibility of future coordinated action by Ankara and the Assad regime.

“Their joint action might be against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, as both Ankara and Damascus share a common interest in weakening the group’s power,” he told Arab News.

During their meeting in the Russian capital, the Turkish and Syrian intelligence chiefs reportedly discussed the cease-fire in the opposition-controlled Idlib province.

Syrian news agency SANA also said that Syria’s head of intelligence had reminded his Turkish counterpart of the importance of full adherence to Syrian sovereignty as well as to its independence and territorial integrity, calling on Turkey to immediately withdraw its forces from Syrian territories.

In December 2017, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Assad “a terrorist who has carried out state terrorism,” saying that it would be impossible for Syrian peace efforts to continue while he stayed in power.

However, after the withdrawal of US forces from northeastern Syria and the safe zone deal brokered with Turkey last year, Syrian regime troops and Russian military were sent to the territories vacated by the Americans to remove the YPG from the border area.

Assad aims to take back full control of Idlib where Turkey had committed to helping evacuate the region of rebels and their heavy weaponry.

Sources in Ankara suggest that Turkey might give some concessions in Idlib in exchange for more Russian support for its stance on the conflict in Libya.

Aydin Sezer, an Ankara-based Russia and Middle East analyst, told Arab News the fact that such high-level talks had taken place in Moscow was a positive move given the past animosity between Syria and Turkey.

“It will contribute to overcome the deadlock in Syria which Turkey is also trapped in. These talks also meant to hand over the responsibility to deal with the YPG to the Assad government, as the latter is believed to influence the local tribes against the YPG,” he said.

Sezer added that the meeting was also aimed at highlighting to the Turkish public a new phase in relations with Syria. “It is the result of long-time pressure from Russian President Vladimir Putin who repeatedly reminded of the Adana memorandum between Turkey and Syria.”

Since last year, Putin has been pushing for Ankara to restore ties with Damascus on the basis of the 1998 Adana accord which put down a framework for security cooperation between the two countries to remove Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants, who have waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state, from the Syrian border. Ankara considers the YPG an extension of the PKK.

The Adana protocol, that was signed by then-presidents Suleyman Demirel of Turkey and Syria’s Hafez Assad, is still in effect.

Erdogan admitted in February last year that the two countries were maintaining low-level dialogue through their intelligence agencies, although the meetings were never disclosed to the media.

The first low-level get-together was held in 2018 during cease-fire negotiations for Idlib.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had also announced that Turkey would consider working with Assad if he won a democratic election.


British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

Updated 21 January 2020

British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

  • Palestinian envoy welcomes cross-party call ahead of visit by Prince Charles

LONDON: A group of British MPs has called for the UK to recognize the state of Palestine ahead of a visit by Prince Charles to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a letter to The Times, the MPs, along with figures from think tanks and pressure groups, said the move was long overdue and would help fulfill Britain’s “promise of equal rights for peoples in two states.” 

The call comes as the heir to the British throne travels on Thursday to Israel and the occupied West Bank. 

During the visit, he will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. 

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

The letter said since 2014, no meaningful progress has been made in the peace process, and Israel’s actions are pushing a two-state solution beyond reach.

“Illegal Israeli settlements, described by the Foreign Office as undermining peace efforts, are expanding,” the letter said.

Among the signatories are Emily Thornberry, a candidate for the Labour Party leadership, and Crispin Blunt, chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council.

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to the UK, welcomed the move but said full recognition from the British government should have happened many years ago.

“Recognition doesn’t contradict peacemaking and negotiations,” Zomlot told Arab News, referring to the main argument used by the UK against taking such a step. 

“It reinforces the vision (of a Palestinian state) and a negotiated two-state solution. It should happen now because of the threat of annexation (of Palestinian territory) and the killing of the two-state solution.”

FASTFACT

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

Alistair Carmichael, a Liberal Democrat MP who signed the letter, told Arab News that the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government toward Palestine “makes the achievement of a two-state solution more and more remote with every week that passes.”

He said: “The UK has historic and political obligations toward Israelis and Palestinians. There’s now no longer any good reason not to recognize the state of Palestine.”

A spokesman for Labour MP Fabian Hamilton, who also signed the letter, told Arab News: “The fact that this has cross-party support shows the growing desire across Parliament for the recognition of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.”

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said the international community needs to finally stand up for the solution that it has had on the table for decades.

Doyle, an Arab News columnist, said the letter is an “indication that many people in British politics think we should be doing this, we should be standing up for the Palestinian right to self-determination, the legal rights, at a time when the state of Israel is doing everything to stop this, to take more land from the Palestinians.”

The letter was timed to coincide with a meeting of European foreign ministers on Monday, who discussed the Middle East peace process.

The Palestinian Authority, which runs parts of the West Bank, has been increasing calls for European countries to recognize the state of Palestine as the US has shifted to a more pro-Israel stance, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

Writing in The Guardian on Monday, Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Europe could strengthen its role in the peace process if it recognized Palestine.

“European recognition of this state is not only a European responsibility but a concrete way to move towards a just and lasting peace,” he said.

Only nine out of the 28 EU countries have so far recognized Palestine as a state, compared to 138 out of the 193 UN member states.

In 2011, the UK’s then-Foreign Minister William Hague said the British government “reserves the right” to recognize Palestine “at a time of our own choosing, and when it can best serve the cause of peace.”

In 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine’s status to that of “nonmember observer state.”