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Syrian minister optimistic on Kurdish talks

Local | 2019-01-10 10:38:50
Syrian minister optimistic on Kurdish talks
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad expressed optimism Wednesday over dialogue with Kurdish groups that want to strike a political deal with Damascus, suggesting progress had been made in contacts mediated by Russia.

Kurdish-led groups who control swathes of northern Syria have revived contacts with Damascus in the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from their region.

These groups are keen to stave off any Turkish attack.

Mekdad’s comments to journalists were the first on the talks with the Kurds, who are calling on Damascus to deploy troops at the border with Turkey.

Asked whether progress had been made, Mekdad said: “I feel that we must always be optimistic.

“The past experiences were not encouraging. But now matters are reaching their conclusion.”

He signaled approval of recent statements by Kurdish groups affirming they are part of the Syrian state and nation, saying “the conditions” were favorable for them to return to the state.

“Therefore I am always optimistic ... we encourage these political groups to be sincere in dialogue that is happening now between the Syrian state and these groups, taking into account that there is no alternative to that,” he told a small group of journalists including Reuters.

A top Syrian Kurdish politician told Reuters last week that the Kurdish groups had presented a “road map” for a deal with Damascus during recent meetings at the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow.

If such a deal could be agreed, it would piece back together the two biggest chunks of a country splintered by eight years of war and leave one corner of the northwest in the hands of anti-Assad rebels backed by Turkey.

The immediate priority for the Kurdish-led authorities of northern Syria is to find a way to shield the region from Turkey.

Turkey has already sent its army into Syria twice to push back the YPG. But it has held off attacking the large Kurdish-controlled area of the northeast where U.S. forces operate.

Mekdad said he was certain all “foreign forces” would withdraw from Syria. Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey will not refrain from military action to protect its borders from what he describes as threats posed by the Syrian Kurdish fighters.The minister’s comments came a day after Turkey rejected U.S. national security adviser John Bolton’s demands for assurances that Ankara would protect Washington’s Kurdish allies in Syria before American troops pull out from the region.

Cavusoglu told Turkey’s parliamentary foreign affairs committee the U.S. was “struggling to withdraw” from Syria because it was too far engaged with the militia group.

In other developments, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham militants inched forward in the last major opposition bastion, as a deal with rival rebels saw them expand their control to three-quarters of the stronghold, a monitor said.

The opposition bastion near the Turkish border includes a large part of the province of Idlib, as well as parts of the neighboring provinces of Aleppo and Hama.

HTS has been gaining ground against rival rebels in the Idlib region in recent days. The militant group Wednesday gained control of Sahl al-Ghab and Jabal Shahshabo, an area on the Idlib-Hama provincial border, under a deal with rival rebels, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

After the accord, the militant-led alliance now controls around 75 percent of the Idlib region, said Rami Abdel-Rahman, head of the Observatory.

A rival alliance of rebels called the National Liberation Front controls around 20 percent, he said.

Other militants are present in the remaining 5 percent of the region.

The rebel bastion of Idlib has since September been protected from a massive regime offensive by a deal between government ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey.

But that deal has not been completely implemented, and analysts say HTS is now seeking to gain ground to present itself as the undisputed leader in the area.
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