Syrian Kurds ready for dialogue with Turkey, says SDF chief

Turkey-backed Syrian fighters walk near the Turkish village of Akcakale along the border with Syria, as they prepare to take part in the Turkish-led assault on northeastern Syria. (AFP)
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Updated 27 January 2020

Syrian Kurds ready for dialogue with Turkey, says SDF chief

  • YPG, SDF have been among Washington’s main allies in the fight against Daesh

JEDDAH: Mazloum Kobani, commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), expressed the group’s readiness for dialogue with Turkey.

“We have tried our best to fix our problems with Turkey. As the SDF, as the YPG, we have had direct talks with Turkey in the past and are ready to do so again. We want peace,” he told Al-Monitor on Thursday.
“Turkey should never mistake our goodwill for weakness and should be prepared to reciprocate our goodwill.”
Ankara conducted an operation in northern Syria in early October against the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the dominant group in the SDF.
The YPG and the SDF have been among Washington’s main allies in the fight against Daesh. As such, Ankara’s operation created another point of contention between Turkey and the US.
On Oct. 22, 2019, Ankara and Moscow reached a deal under which the YPG would pull back 30 km south of Turkey’s border with Syria, to open an area for Turkish-Russian security patrols.

Turkey should never mistake our goodwill for weakness and should be prepared to reciprocate our goodwill.

Mazloum Kobani, DF commander

Amberin Zaman, an expert on Kurdish affairs who conducted the interview with Kobani, said dialogue presents clear benefits for both sides.
“Dialogue could pre-empt further attacks by Turkey,” she told Arab News, adding that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “has threatened to expand operations, so that’s the first big advantage.”
Dialogue also gives the SDF some leverage vis-a-vis the Syrian regime and Russia, and makes it easier for the US to remain in northeast Syria as its protector, she said. “For Turkey, it would expand its influence in Syria immediately and directly,” she added.
Ankara considers the YPG a terrorist group and the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a separatist group that has been fighting the Turkish state for more than 35 years and is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU.
Zaman said dialogue between the SDF and Turkey offers opportunities for trade, and for an easing of tensions between Ankara and Washington, at least over Syria.
“Most critically, it will set the stage for re-engagement between Ankara and its own Kurds if and when Erdogan feels ready and in need of doing this. It’s by now well-established that a military solution is no solution to the Kurdish problem,” she added.

FASTFACT

Ankara’s operation in Syria created another point of dispute between Turkey and the US.

The tomb of Suleiman Shah, the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, was moved by Turkish troops from the Syrian city of Kobani to the village of Esme when Kobani was besieged by Daesh militants.
“We know that Turkey wants to return Suleiman Shah’s remains to Kobani and to rebuild his tomb there. Provided that Turkey does not mistake our goodwill for weakness we would be happy to help Turkey … conduct such an operation in a spirit of peace and based on the understanding that this spirit of peace will be reciprocal,” Kobani said, underlying the importance of “confidence-building and goodwill gestures.”
Residents of the rebel-held Syrian province of Idlib “are welcome to seek shelter in the areas under our control,” he added.
“We know that Turkey, which already has a huge burden with nearly 4 million Syrians living there, is deeply concerned by a fresh influx of up to a million Syrian refugees from Idlib because of escalating regime attacks on Idlib. Our call to the people of Idlib helps relieve Turkey’s burden,” he said.
“Again, in the spirit of goodwill and above all on humanitarian grounds we are ready to work with Turkey if and when the need arises to help move civilians out of harm’s way in Idlib and bring them here.”
He said US President Donald Trump gave him his word to help broker peace between the SDF and Ankara. “We do want to end our differences with Turkey,” Kobani added.


‘Social explosion’ in Lebanese camps imminent, warn officials

Updated 49 min 44 sec ago

‘Social explosion’ in Lebanese camps imminent, warn officials

  • Situation volatile as Palestinian refugees face economic crisis after US peace plan

BEIRUT: Authorities are battling to prevent “a social explosion” among Palestinian refugees crammed into camps in Lebanon, a top official has revealed.

Fathi Abu Al-Ardat, secretary of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) factions in Lebanon, told Arab News that urgent measures were being put in place to try and stop the “crisis” situation getting out of control.

“Conditions in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are very difficult due to the economic crisis facing the country, and we are trying to delay a social explosion in the camps and working on stopgap solutions,” he said.

And Dr. Hassan Mneimneh, the head of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC), said: “More Palestinian refugees from the camps in Lebanon are immigrating. Embassies are receiving immigration requests, and Canada is inundated with a wave of immigration because its embassy has opened doors to applications.”

According to a population census conducted in 2017 by the Central Administration of Statistics in Lebanon, in coordination with the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), there are 174,422 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon spread across 12 camps and nearby compounds.

Mneimneh insisted the figure was accurate despite the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) estimating there to be 459,292 refugees in the country. He said: “The census we had conducted refers to the current reality in Lebanon.”

He added that he feared “increased pressure on European donor countries over UNRWA in the coming days after the unilateral implementation of the ‘Deal of the Century’ (the US peace plan for the Middle East) by Israel.

“Israel’s goal is to undermine UNRWA’s mission as a prelude to ending the Palestinian cause and, thus, preventing the return of Palestinians.”

Mneimneh held a meeting on Wednesday with two Lebanese and Palestinian action groups in Lebanon to discuss Palestinian asylum issues in light of the American peace plan. There were no representatives of Hezbollah or Hamas present at the talks.

He said: “This deal kick-starts an unusual stage that carries the most serious risks not only to the Palestinian people and cause, but also to the other countries and entities in the Arab region.

“The first of these is Lebanon, which senses the danger of this announcement in view of the clauses it contains to eliminate the Palestinian cause, including the refugee issue and the possibility of their settlement in the host countries.”

Al-Ardat said: “Palestinian refugees have no choice but to withstand the pressures on them to implement the so-called ‘Deal of the Century.’ What is proposed is that we sell our country for promises, delusions, and $50 billion distributed to three countries. Palestine is not for sale.”

He pointed out that “the camps in Lebanon resorted to family solidarity in coordination with the shops in the camps. Whoever does not have money can go to the shop after two (2 p.m.) in the afternoon and get vegetables for free.

“We have been securing 7,000 packs of bread to distribute in the camps and buying the same amount to sell the pack at 500 liras. But this does not solve the problem.”

He added: “The PLO leadership continues to perform its duty toward the refugees and, until now, we have not been affected by the restrictions imposed by banks in Lebanon, and refugees are still receiving medical treatment.

“However, our concern now is that Palestinian refugees do not starve, taking into account all the indications that the situation in Lebanon will not improve soon.

“Twenty percent of the Palestinians in Lebanon receive wages either from UNRWA — as they work there — or from the PLO because they are affiliated with the factions, but 80 percent are unemployed and have no income.”

The meeting hosted by Mneimneh agreed “the categorical rejection of the ‘Deal of the Century’ because it means further erasing the identity existence of the Palestinian people as well as their national rights, especially their right to return and establish their independent state.

“It also means assassinating the Palestinian peoples’ legitimate rights and supporting Israel’s usurpation of international justice and 72 years of Arab struggle.

“The deal includes ambiguous, illegal and immoral approaches that contradict all relevant UN and Security Council resolutions, especially with regard to the establishment of the Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 and the inalienable right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland and establish their state with Jerusalem as its capital,” a statement on the meeting added.

“UNRWA must remain the living international witness to the ongoing suffering and tragedy of the Palestinian people, and UNRWA must continue to receive support.”

Attendees at the talks also recommended “improving the conditions of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon to strengthen the elements of their steadfastness until they return.” This was “based on the Unified Lebanese Vision for the Palestinian Refugees Affairs in Lebanon document, which includes the right to work.”