Rus­sia, Turkey stress need to honor Syria truce

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE -

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. –

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