Russia, Turkey stress need to honor Syria truce
MOSCOW/BEIRUT: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu agreed Tuesday on the need to observe a truce in Syria while continuing to fight “terrorist groups,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said.
Lavrov and Cavusoglu, who spoke by phone, discussed upcoming talks on the Syrian situation that are due to take place in the Kazakh capital Astana in late January.
Syria’s government and rebel forces started a cease-fire on Dec. 31 as a first step toward face-to face negotiations backed by Turkey and Russia, but the date and its participants remain unclear.
Syrian Kurds have not been invited to the talks on the political future of Syria due to take place this month in Kazakhstan, their representative in France said Tuesday, an outcome that would leave a key player in the conflict off the negotiating table.
“It seems that only representatives of armed groups, and not political representatives [of the opposition] will be invited to negotiate with the Syrian regime in Astana,” Khaled Issa said, adding that for a comprehensive peace deal in Syria the Kurds would at one point have to be invited to the negotiating table.
The main Syrian political opposition umbrella group that includes about half a dozen armed groups, the Riyadh-backed High Negotiations Committee, is meeting in the Saudi capital later this week to discuss the Astana talks, although it is also unclear whether Moscow intends to invite them, diplomats and opposition officials said.
Ankara intervened in Syria last year in support of rebel groups fighting under the Free Syrian Army banner to drive Daesh (ISIS) from positions it had used to shell Turkish towns, and to stop Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) expansion.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan describes the YPG as a “terror group” for its links to Kurdish
separatist militants in Turkey and has blasted the United States for working with the group on the ground in Syria.
The truce is also under growing strain as rebels have vowed to respond to regime violations and President Bashar Assad said Monday the army would retake a key rebel-held area near Damascus that supplies the city with water.
The United Nations has said 5.5 million people have been without water for weeks after fighting damaged key infrastructure in the Barada Valley region outside Damascus that is the main water source for the capital. Assad’s forces have been battling rebels in the Barada Valley for weeks.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported clashes in the Barada Valley Tuesday and said regime forces shelled several areas and the valley’s outskirts, amid intense airstrikes. The government says Jabhat Fatah al-Sham Front, known previously as N us ra Front, is present in the Bar ada Valley. Rebels, meanwhile, deny the militants are in the area. –