Ankara, Damascus discuss potential normalization after years of broken ties

Special Ankara, Damascus discuss potential normalization after years of broken ties
Widespread protests were staged in northern Syria over a proposal from the Turkish foreign minister for reconciliation between the Syrian regime and the opposition. (AFP)
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Updated 16 August 2022

Ankara, Damascus discuss potential normalization after years of broken ties

Ankara, Damascus discuss potential normalization after years of broken ties
  • Turkey will continue to temporarily provide security in some northwestern territories in Syria if they normalize bilateral relations, analyst tells Arab News

ANKARA: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s revelation that he met his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad last October on the margins of the Non-Aligned Movement summit hinted at the possibility of Ankara and Damascus seeking political rapprochement after 11 years of a rupture in ties. 

Cavusoglu reportedly talked with his counterpart in Serbia’s capital Belgrade about the need to come to terms with the opposition and the Assad regime in Syria for a lasting peace. 

The Turkish foreign minister emphasized that his country supported Syria’s territorial integrity as “the border integrity, territorial integrity and peace of a country next to us directly affect us.”

The pro-government Turkiye newspaper recently claimed that Assad and Erdogan may hold a telephone conservation after Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed this during his recent meeting with Erdogan in Sochi. However, Cavusoglu denied rumors about any talks between the Syrian and Turkish presidents.

Having conducted four cross-border military operations in Syria since the start of civil war in 2011 to clear its border from terror groups, Turkey also has a significant military presence through observation posts in northern parts of the country. 

Since 2017, Turkey, Iran and Russia have come together through Astana meetings to try to bring the warring sides in Syria toward finding a permanent solution to the war. 

It is not a secret that the Turkish and Syrian intelligence services have been communicating. 

However, as Turkey has backed rebel groups fighting the Assad regime, the latest signs of a potential normalization of bilateral ties has angered opposition groups who held mass protests in several areas of northern Aleppo to demonstrate their objections, fearing renewed diplomatic contact with the Assad regime. 

Turkey’s bid for peace with the Assad regime might also have repercussions for the fate of more than 3.7 million registered Syrian refugees in Turkey who have become a domestic politic issue due to the economic hardship the country is facing. 

Before the outbreak of the civil war, Turkey and Syria had close relationships at the top level, often exemplified by the famous summer holiday of Syrian President Bashar Assad with his family at Turkey’s Aegean resort town of Bodrum where he also met Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2008. 

“Given the durability of the Assad regime, Ankara has to have a modus vivendi of sorts; in fact, it exists already at the level of intelligence agency chiefs,“ Rich Outzen, senior fellow at Atlantic Council and Jamestown Foundation, told Arab News.  

“The political risk for President Erdogan of a rapid or warm reconciliation is incredibly high, though, so the understanding is likely to be incremental and limited,” Outzen said.  

According to Outzen, botching re-engagement would mean compromising the viability of the Turkish-protected safe zone, leading to a new waves of refugees, or inviting new massacres by Assad among populations Ankara wants to protect and to remain in place. 

“Yet the lack of a modus vivendi is also not sustainable over the long-term, because inevitably pressure will grow internationally and within Turkey for Turkish forces to have a pathway to withdrawal, even if the pathway is measured in multiple years,” he said. 

For that reason, Outzen thinks that fears of a rash or rapid reconciliation or re-engagement are overstated. 

“Putin, of course, pressures Erdogan to re-engage, but Erdogan will in my view resist any but the minimum measures to maintain his own freedom of maneuver in Syria,” he said. “As this week’s protests in the Safe Zone demonstrate, going too fast in this process can prompt a backlash among Syrians in northern Syria and perhaps ultimately in Turkey.” 

According to Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish program at the Washington Institute, while Turkey’s endgame in Syria is an Erdogan-Assad handshake, Ankara and Damascus are moving northwestern Syria into a frozen conflict.  

“I don’t think that an arrangement between Turkey and Syria will result in a complete reset of two countries borders and border affairs because many of the Syrians who live in the zones controlled by Turkish-backed forces have been already effectively cleansed by Assad, in some cases twice,” he told Arab News.

“There is zero chance that they would stay in Assad regime-controlled Syria if both leaders shake hands or make exchanges of territories,” he said. 

Cagaptay thinks that Turkey will recognize Assad’s sovereignty over the area, but will continue to temporarily provide security as well as law and order in some in northwestern territories in Syria, while also keeping millions of Sunni Arabs Assad does not want and has no interest in making full citizens again. 

“Assad may even come back to border stations with the Syrian republic flag and might begin to provide some of the social services,” he told Arab News. 

For Cagaptay, the big favor that Turkey is doing for Assad is keeping Syrians refugees inside the country and in northwest Syria under Turkish control, and not forcing them to return to Syria. 

“That is a huge favor to Assad because he used the war in Syria for ethnic engineering. Before the war, Sunni Arabs constituted over two-thirds of the Syrian population, but now they are under half. In return for that favor, Assad can propose to re-ingest the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG under his control. It is a good deal for Erdogan and Turkey,” he said.  

Turkey considers the YPG a national security threat and the extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party that has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state. 

For Aydin Sezer, an Ankara-based analyst, the possibility of re-engagement with the Assad regime will be used for domestic consumption ahead of the approaching election term scheduled for June 2023 at a time of deepening economic turmoil in Turkey.

“There is significant external pressure to make this reconciliation happen, while the economic burden of hosting millions of Syrian refugees inside Turkey and the rising cost of deploying military officers to the observation posts in Syria also make this issue financially important for the internal dynamics,” he told Arab News. 

Turkey has about 5,000 troops within the areas it controls in Syria, along with some 8,000 soldiers around rebel-held Idlib province, whose maintenance is costing Ankara billions of dollars and risks confrontations with Assad and foreign powers over territory violation. 

“Although the rapprochement cannot happen overnight, it is significant that the ruling government as well as the opposition parties have begun discussing it,” Sezer said. 

Erdogan recently hinted at a fresh operation into Syria to create a 30 km-deep safe zone from the border to push back Kurdish militants, but any military activity does not look imminent following several warnings from regional powers.


Yemen govt has ‘fully’ implemented UN-brokered truce, says FM

Yemen govt has ‘fully’ implemented UN-brokered truce, says FM
Updated 16 sec ago

Yemen govt has ‘fully’ implemented UN-brokered truce, says FM

Yemen govt has ‘fully’ implemented UN-brokered truce, says FM
  • The country has experienced the longest cessation of hostilities and violence in eight years over the last six months, resulting in a significant drop in civilian deaths

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s internationally recognized government has carried out all of its obligations under the UN-brokered truce and has made “major” concessions to clear the way for its renewal and the end of the war, Yemen’s foreign minister said on Wednesday.

Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak told reporters in the Moroccan capital Rabat that the Houthis have imposed numerous restrictions and conditions to thwart attempts to extend the truce.

He added that the Iran-backed militia has refused to pay public employees in the areas they control despite having made millions of dollars from the sale of oil ships that entered Hodeidah port during the truce.

“We carried out everything in the armistice agreement and made major concessions. The Houthis erected new roadblocks at every stage of the talks,” the Yemeni minister said, noting that Houthi artillery, explosive-rigged drones, snipers and landmines had killed or injured 1,400 government soldiers and officers, as well as 94 civilians during the truce.

The minister said that the government would only pay public employees in Houthi areas if the militia group would deposit earnings from Hodeidah port into the central bank in accordance with the UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement in 2018.

“The Houthis plundered more than 45 billion Yemeni riyals ($18 million) prior to the armistice and have not paid a single riyal in public employee salaries since the signing of the Stockholm Agreement.”

He accused Iran of using the Houthis to further its expansionist goals, vowing to oppose Iran’s attempts to seize control of the country’s resources, including oil.

“The Houthi group imposed the war in order to carry out Tehran's expansionist agenda in the region,” he said. “We will utilize our constitutional right to defend our nation and people, and we won’t let Iran take control of Yemen’s oil riches.”

The international community’s efforts to end the war in Yemen took a major hit this week when the Iran-backed Houthis refused to renew the truce and threatened to target oil ships transporting the country’s oil exports from government-controlled areas.

The Houthis rejected a suggestion to partially ease their siege of Taiz by opening at least one main road leading into and out of the city, and they told UN Yemen envoy Hans Grundberg that they would agree to renew the truce only if the Yemeni government paid public servants in areas under their control.

The country has experienced the longest cessation of hostilities and violence in eight years over the last six months, resulting in a significant drop in civilian deaths.

With the truce, which went into effect on April 2 and has been renewed twice, thousands of passengers have been able to fly from Sanaa airport, and more than 50 fuel ships have entered the port of Hodeidah, ending severe fuel shortages in the Houthi-controlled areas.

Similarly, the EU mission in Yemen has blamed the Houthis’ “maximalist demands” for undermining international efforts to renew the truce and has urged warring factions, particularly the Houthis, to cooperate with the UN’s Yemen envoy and de-escalate.

“We urge in particular the Houthis to moderate their demands and to engage constructively with UN special envoy Grundberg so that the truce can continue and develop into an effective ceasefire, paving the way for a comprehensive process leading to peace in Yemen,” the EU mission said in a statement.


Italian judges’ association condemns Iran for crackdown on protesters

Italian judges’ association condemns Iran for crackdown on protesters
Updated 37 min 30 sec ago

Italian judges’ association condemns Iran for crackdown on protesters

Italian judges’ association condemns Iran for crackdown on protesters
  • The Court of Auditors Magistrates Association rarely takes a stance on political issues, but in a communique, it criticized the Iranian regime’s tough response to demonstrations
  • Amini, 22, died at the hands of Iran’s morality police, the Gasht-e Ershad, after being held for allegedly breaching strict dress codes imposed on women

ROME: A top Italian judges’ association has condemned Iran for its crackdown on protests over the death in custody of Mahsa Amini.

The Court of Auditors Magistrates Association rarely takes a stance on political issues, but in a communique, it criticized the Iranian regime’s tough response to demonstrations taking place throughout Iran.

Amini, 22, died at the hands of Iran’s morality police, the Gasht-e Ershad, after being held for allegedly breaching strict dress codes imposed on women.

Her death has since sparked protests in almost every province of Iran over the policing of personal freedoms.

In its statement, the association expressed its “deep solidarity and closeness to Iranian women, who are demonstrating in many ways to claim their freedom and against an oppression that has lasted for 40 years, putting their own lives at risk.”

Association president, Paola Briguori, described Tehran’s actions as “horrible and unacceptable,” adding that “when fundamental rights are undermined one cannot remain silent waiting for everything to calm down.”

Briguori said the crackdown on demonstrators reflected “the legacy of a regime that constantly violates human rights and freedom of expression, repressing and nullifying women’s rights. It is time to give voice to the disapproval and to say enough.”

President of the Italian National Press Federation, Beppe Giulietti, took part in a demonstration outside the Iranian Embassy in Rome. He said the media had an important role to play in highlighting the situation in Iran and urged news organizations to “give space to those who have no voice today.”


UAE continues to strengthen domestic labor rights

UAE continues to strengthen domestic labor rights
Updated 41 min 33 sec ago

UAE continues to strengthen domestic labor rights

UAE continues to strengthen domestic labor rights
  • The decree law stipulates the right of domestic workers to be paid annual leave of no less than 30 days

ABU DHABI: The UAE has issued a new federal law to strengthen domestic labor rights.

Decree Federal Law No.9 for 2022 covers all aspects of domestic labor law and guarantees the rights of all parties in a relationship, whether workers, employers or recruitment agents, in line with clear standards and frameworks, the Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported on Wednesday.

The decree law covers working hours, weekly breaks and leave for domestic workers and affirms the right of domestic workers to a paid day off per week, according to the law’s executive regulations.

The executive resolutions issued by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization are responsible for working hours and leaves.

The decree law stipulates the right of domestic workers to be paid annual leave of no less than 30 days, said WAM.

If the service period is less than a year and more than six months, workers are entitled to two days leave every month, and the employer can specify the start date of the annual leave.

Moreover, the decree law says if domestic workers wish to travel to their home countries on annual leave, employers must cover the cost of their return tickets once every two years.

The decree law affirms the right of domestic workers to sick leave for a period not exceeding 30 days during a contractual year, whether continuous or intermittent if the need for this leave can be proven by a medical report issued by an approved national health authority.

Furthermore, the decree law affirms the right of domestic workers to change their employer based on the requirements set in their contracts and if they have fulfilled their obligations to the original employer, according to the conditions and procedures included in the resolution of the ministry.

The decree law stipulates that the employer will inform the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization about any violations committed by a domestic worker against applicable laws.

Recruitment agents must administer the necessary medical examinations for domestic workers within a period not exceeding 30 days before their entry into the country, the decree law confirmed.

They must treat domestic workers in a humane way, not expose them to violence, and raise their awareness of the relevant authorities they must contact if their rights are violated, stressed the decree law.

The law also prohibits recruiting or temporarily hiring domestic workers without obtaining a license from the ministry, according to the executive regulation of the decree law and the ministry’s resolutions.

If domestic workers are recruited or employed on a temporary basis, they cannot be discriminated against based on by race, religion, nationality, social class or disability. Sexual harassment, whether physical or verbal, is prohibited, along with people being forced to work or do any actions that fall in the category of human trafficking.

The law, which was issued on Sept. 9, will come into force three months after the date of its publication in the Official Gazette.


Iranian girls heckle member of feared paramilitary force

Iranian girls heckle member of feared paramilitary force
Updated 46 sec ago

Iranian girls heckle member of feared paramilitary force

Iranian girls heckle member of feared paramilitary force
  • Basij militia used to suppress widespread protests in Iran

RIYADH: Iranian teenage girls have heckled a member of the regime’s feared Basij paramilitary force, in a protest stemming from the death of a young woman at the hands of Iran’s morality police.

A video shared on social media shows the girls waving their headscarves in the air and chanting “get lost, Basiji” at the man who was meant to address a crowd of demonstrators. Unconfirmed reports said the video was taken in Shiraz on Tuesday.

The protest came in the third week of unrest over the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, days after she was arrested by morality police, the Gasht-e Ershad, in Tehran for allegedly wearing an incorrect headscarf. Her family say she was beaten in custody. Authorities claim she had a heart attack.

The Basij is a wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that has been designated as a terrorist organization by several states, including Saudi Arabia. Its members have been used against the ongoing protests, in which scores of people have died.

Many of the demonstrations are being led by women and girls, who have been flouting the law on compulsory headscarves in a symbolic show of their opposition to the regime.

A second video posted online this week showed a man yelling “death to the dictator” as girls, who had removed their headscarves, walked through traffic in the northwestern city of Sanandaj. An elderly woman was seen clapping in solidarity as the girls chanted “freedom.”

In a third clip, a teacher appeared to threaten students with expulsion if they did not cover their heads as they took part in a sit-down protest in a schoolyard.

Footage reportedly shot in Karaj meanwhile showed girls chasing a man, believed to be a member of the security forces, as he rode a motorcycle.


Jordan, Oman deepen ties as ministers agree education, science, tourism programs

Jordan, Oman deepen ties as ministers agree education, science, tourism programs
Updated 29 min 49 sec ago

Jordan, Oman deepen ties as ministers agree education, science, tourism programs

Jordan, Oman deepen ties as ministers agree education, science, tourism programs
  • Ministers agreed on programs for higher education, scientific research, and innovation between next year and 2025

MUSCAT: Jordan and Oman’s foreign ministers have signed agreements to deepen ties in education, science, and tourism.

Jordan’s Ayman Safadi on Wednesday met his Omani counterpart Badr Albusaidi in Muscat to follow up on recent talks between King Abdullah II and Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al-Said, the Jordan News Agency reported.

The ministers signed executive programs for higher education, scientific research, and innovation between next year and 2025, and another on tourism cooperation up to 2026.

Safadi and Albusaidi also discussed preparations for Jordanian-Omani Joint Higher Committee meetings in Amman next year, as well as a business forum to be held on the sidelines.

Jordanian royals visit the National Museum of Oman and the House of Musical Arts at the Royal Opera House in Muscat. (Petra News Agency)

King Abdullah, accompanied by Queen Rania and Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah, visited the National Museum of Oman and the House of Musical Arts at the Royal Opera House in Muscat.

The royals were given an overview of the museum’s collections and artifacts and also attended a performance by the Royal Guard of Oman band.