Aug 16 2019

Russia says it supports dialogue between Damascus and Kurds in northeast Syria

Russia’s approach over northeast Syria remains unchanged, and it supports Syria’s sovereignty in the region as well as dialogue between Damascus and the Kurdish administrations in the north and east of the country, said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Thursday. 

Turkey and the United States this week started work to establish a joint operations centre in Turkey for a planned safe zone in northeast Syria, which Turkey says is essential for its national security.

Turkey sees the predominantly-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and its affiliate, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), as extensions of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and has repeatedly said it plans to launch a military offensive against the YPG which controls some enclaves in northeast Syria along the Turkish border. 

“Attempts to isolate Syria’s northeast are a source of growing concern,” said Zakharova during her weekly briefing. “Russia’s approach to this issue has remained unchanged. As before, we support efforts to reach long-term stability and security in the northeast by restoring Syria’s sovereignty and a productive dialogue between Damascus and the Kurds as part of the Syrian people,” she said. 

Zakharova said the most difficult situation was in Idlib, where Russian-backed Syrian forces in April started an offensive against Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a jihadist group with links to al Qaeda that has gained control of most of the province, which is home to an estimated 3 million people, many of whom have been displaced from others parts of Syria.

The Syrian government’s incursion was launched despite a deal between Turkey and Russia agreed last year to prevent an operation against Idlib, which included the establishment of a deescalation zone in the province. 

“Russia remains committed to the Sochi memorandum of September 17, 2018 on establishing a demilitarised zone,” Zakharova said. “However, it should not be used as an excuse to protect and shield the terrorists that were qualified as such by the UN Security Council. We hope our Turkish partners will also abide strictly by the commitment assumed in this memorandum,” she said. 

Turkish daily Yeni Şafak reported on Friday that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces had bombed four villages on Thursday and captured Madaya village and two farms bordering Hama province in the south of Idlib from the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA).

A Turkish observation post in Hama province may be under threat if the regime forces extend their attacks or continue the siege, the daily said.