Syria, Kurds talk about de­par­ture of US forces

The Bradenton Herald (Sunday) - - Nation & World - BY BASSEM MROUE

BEIRUT

Talks are on­go­ing be­tween the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment in Da­m­as­cus and Kur­dish of­fi­cials to reach a deal on how to fill the gap af­ter the with­drawal of U.S. troops from the coun­try, a Syr­ian Kur­dish of­fi­cial said Sat­ur­day.

The of­fi­cial, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause of the talks’ se­crecy, said Syr­ian Kur­dish of­fi­cials have vis­ited Rus­sia, which is a main backer of the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment. He added that Rus­sia sup­ports the talks be­tween the gov­ern­ment and the Kur­dish-led mili­tia that con­trol nearly a third of the coun­try.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald

Trump an­nounced in midDe­cem­ber that the U.S. will with­draw its 2,000 forces in Syria. Trump’s move has raised fears over clear­ing the way for a Turk­ish as­sault on Kur­dish fight­ers in Syria who fought along­side Amer­i­can troops against Is­lamic State group ex­trem­ists. Tur­key con­sid­ers the Kur­dish Peo­ple’s Pro­tec­tion Units, or YPG, a ter­ror­ist group linked to an in­sur­gency within its own bor­ders.

The main U.S.-backed Kur­dish-led Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces has ex- pressed con­cerns over the planned with­drawal as Tur­key has threat­ened to at­tack Kur­dish fight­ers in Syria.

The Kur­dish of­fi­cial said “dis­cus­sions are on­go­ing and the at­mos­phere is pos­i­tive.” He said that an un­der­stand­ing has been reached to “face any force that wants to oc­cupy Syria es­pe­cially in the north.”

The of­fi­cial told The As­so­ci­ated Press that Rus­sia is play­ing a pos­i­tive role in dis­cussing agree­ments that could be reached be­tween the

Kurds and the gov­ern­ment. He gave no fur­ther de­tails say­ing that dis­cus­sions are still on­go­ing.

“There are hopes to reach a deal that pleases both sides as we are all Syr­i­ans,” he said.

Ibrahim Hamidi, a jour­nal­ist who cov­ers Syr­ian af­fairs for the Sau­diowned news­pa­per Asharq Al-Awsat, wrote in a re­port pub­lished Sat­ur­day that the top com­man­der of the YPG, Si­pan Hemo, se­cretly vis­ited Da­m­as­cus and Moscow where he of­fered “a se­cret deal” that would in­clude hand­ing over bor­der points to the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment in re­turn for ac­cept­ing a Kur­dish lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tion with Rus­sia as a guar­an­tor.

The SDF, of which the YPG forms the back­bone, con­trols ar­eas along the bor­der with Tur­key in the north and Iraq in the north­east. Hamidi added that the of­fer aims to reach “un­der­stand­ings to fill the gap fol­low­ing the Amer­i­can with­drawal and to cut the road for Turk­ish in­ter­ven­tion.”

U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser John Bolton, who is in Is­rael, is sched­uled to later visit Tur­key along with the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dun­ford. In meet­ings with Tur­key’s pres­i­dent, Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, and other of­fi­cials, they are ex­pected to warn against an of­fen­sive tar­get­ing the Kur­dish fight­ers in Syria.

In the north­ern prov­ince of Aleppo, al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, Ara­bic for Le­vant Lib­er­a­tion Com­mit­tee, or HTS, cap­tured more than a dozen vil­lages from Tur­key-backed op­po­si­tion fight­ers.

Overnight, HTS shelled western neigh­bor­hoods of the north­ern city Aleppo, Syria’s largest, trig­ger­ing Rus­sian airstrikes on the ar­eas re­cently cap­tured by the mil­i­tants, ac­cord­ing to state me­dia and op­po­si­tion ac­tivists.

The Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights and the Aleppo Me­dia Cen­ter, an ac­tivist col­lec­tive, said a child and his fa­ther were killed in the Rus­sian airstrikes.

Five days of fight­ing in north­ern Syria saw HTS de­feat­ing the Nour el-Din el-Zinki group. The Ob­ser­va­tory said 61 HTS gun­men and 58 fight­ers with Nour el-Din el-Zinki and eight civil­ians were killed in the fight­ing.

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