New Syr­ian cease-fire zones ‘a suc­cess for Turkey’

As­tana deal will thwart Kur­dish mili­tias and stem flow of refugees, an­a­lysts tell Arab News


ANKARA: A new agree­ment to es­tab­lish more de-es­ca­la­tion zones in Syria will pre­vent the for­ma­tion of a Kur­dish en­clave threat­en­ing Turkey’s south­ern bor­der, an­a­lysts told Arab News on Saturday.

The new zones will also pre­clude any US mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion through its Kur­dish mili­tia proxy, the Demo­cratic Union Party (PYD), and there­fore pre­vent a flow of refugees north into Turkey, the an­a­lysts said.

The deal was agreed on Friday af­ter talks in As­tana, the Kaza­khstan cap­i­tal, be­tween rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Rus­sia, Iran and Turkey, who will jointly guar­an­tee the de-es­ca­la­tion zones. Rus­sia and Iran are the key back­ers of the As­sad regime in Syria, while Turkey sup­ports the op­po­si­tion.

The new zones will be es­tab­lished in Latakia, Aleppo, Hama, Homs, East­ern Ghouta and Idlib, ini­tially for six months, which will be au­to­mat­i­cally ex­tended if the guar­an­tor coun­tries agree.

The three coun­tries “em­pha­size the need for the con­flict­ing par­ties to take con­fi­dence­build­ing mea­sures, in­clud­ing the re­lease of de­tainees/ab­ductees and the han­dover of the bod­ies as well as iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of miss­ing per­sons, to cre­ate bet­ter con­di­tions for the po­lit­i­cal process and last­ing cease-fire,” a joint state­ment said.

“Un­der no cir­cum­stances does the cre­ation of the de-es­ca­la­tion areas un­der­mine the sovereignty, in­de­pen­dence, unity and ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity of the Syr­ian Arab Repub­lic,” it said.

Rus­sia, Iran and Turkey will each al­lo­cate 500 ob­servers at check­points and ob­ser­va­tion posts in the se­cu­rity zones to over­see the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the deal and pre­vent any cease-fire vi­o­la­tions in areas where in­tense fight­ing con­tin­ues be­tween op­po­si­tion groups and the pro-As­sad troops.

The next round of talks aimed at end­ing the six-year con­flict will take place at th end of next month.

Nursin Ate­soglu Guney, dean of the fac­ulty of eco­nomics, ad­min­is­tra­tive and so­cial sciences at Bahce­se­hir Cyprus Univer­sity, said the deal was a great suc­cess, for sev­eral rea­sons.

“Firstly, it is a great achieve­ment be­cause the three guar­an­tor states now have pre­vented any likely US mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion through its proxy, the PYD.

Sec­ond, she said, with the sta­tion­ing of Turk­ish troops in Idlib, the PYD, an off­shoot of Turkey’s out­lawed Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Party (PKK), would be en­cir­cled and this would stop the for­ma­tion of a likely ter­ror­ist belt along Turkey’s south­ern bor­ders. “With Turk­ish troops in Idlib, Ankara can now think of launch­ing an Afrin as­sault more eas­ily, and it would be more op­er­a­tionally ac­cept­able.”

Guney said the de-es­ca­la­tion zone at Idlib would also pre­vent any flow of refugees to Turkey’s south­ern bor­ders that would be cre­ated by an Amer­i­can/PYD mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion.

Most im­por­tant of all, she said, with the im­ple­men­ta­tion of de-es­ca­la­tion at Idlib, peo­ple who had long been held hostage with­out food and ba­sic needs would now have ac­cess to hu­man­i­tar­ian aid.

The de-es­ca­la­tion deal is partly a con­se­quence of chang­ing in­ter­na­tional dy­nam­ics with more US pres­sure on Iran and po­lit­i­cal com­pe­ti­tion in the re­gion, she said.

“This idea of de-es­ca­la­tion is not a new one. But geopo­lit­i­cal and geo-eco­nomic pres­sures on Iran and Rus­sia from US ef­forts in the Mid­dle East and be­yond are forc­ing Moscow and Tehran into strong is­sue-based co­op­er­a­tion with Ankara.”

A pos­si­ble im­ped­i­ment to the deal could be some op­po­si­tion groups who have al­ready re­jected Iran’s par­tic­i­pa­tion, Guney said.

“But from a Turk­ish stand­point, this new deal is a great suc­cess. Turkey has re­ally seen the net ben­e­fits of di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion of its re­la­tions with its neigh­bors,” and such diplo­matic suc­cess was also a re­sult of Ankara’s preven­tive mil­i­tary ac­tion, such as last year’s Op­er­a­tion Euphrates Shield.

Dr. Bora Bayrak­tar of the In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions Depart­ment at Is­tan­bul Kul­tur Univer­sity said a power vacuum in Idlib had re­sulted in a com­mon stance by Rus­sia, Iran and Turkey to pre­vent the US from in­ter­ven­ing through the PYD.

“Rus­sia, Turkey and Iran are not con­cerned about whether the US will ap­prove this deal or not,” Bayrak­tar told Arab News. “The US will not be happy, but will not try to counter it ei­ther as it is now con­cen­trated on Raqqa.

“The de-es­ca­la­tion zones will not help to erad­i­cate Al-Qaeda el­e­ments in Idlib in the very short term, but only in the medium term.

With­out this deal there was a dan­ger of fur­ther con­flict ini­ti­ated by Al-Qaeda off­shoots and 2 mil­lion refugees would have lined up on the Turk­ish bor­der, Bayrak­tar said.

Chief of Staff of the Free Syr­ian Army Ahmed Beri, left, at­tends a ses­sion of Syria peace talks in As­tana on Friday. (AFP)

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