Astana process guarantor states meet in Sochi to discuss Syrian conflict

DAILY SABAH WITH AA
ANKARA
Published 14.02.2019 00:03
Updated 14.02.2019 13:24

Turkey, Russia and Iran, the three guarantors of the Astana Process, are meeting in Sochi today to discuss a long-term settlement for the ongoing Syrian crisis. According to a written statement from the Beştepe Presidential Complex, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani are discussing the efforts to find a solution to the Syrian conflict. The situation around the de-escalation zone around northern Syrian province of Idlib and the pending withdrawal of U.S. troops from the war-torn country are among the topics which were expected to be discussed.

The three presidents are also expected to exchange opinions on the joint fight against terrorism in the region, restoring calm to Syria, stabilizing the country and returning the displaced Syrians.

Turkey and Russia signed the Sochi agreement in September last year to decrease tensions and avoid new conflicts in the province. Since then, meetings between officials from the two countries have continued.

The last meeting between the three leaders took place in Tehran in September, with the fate of the opposition-held Idlib province dominating the agenda. In a statement following the meeting in Tehran, the parties said, "There can be no military solution to the Syrian conflict, and it can only end through a negotiated political process."

Syria's Bashar Assad regime, on the other hand, intensified their attacks on the de-escalation zones in Idlib ahead of the Sochi summit. On Tuesday, the regime and Iranian-backed terrorist groups carried out more than 100 artillery attacks on civilian settlements.

Mustafa Marrati, a spokesman of one of the Syrian opposition groups under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), told Anadolu Agency (AA) that the Assad regime escalated tension in the region as it always did before each of international summit.

Stressing that the Assad regime intensified its attacks to have a voice at the table, Marrati said, "Assad aims to create pressure on the Turkish government in order to reap a profit."

Meanwhile, the Syrian regime and opposition groups have swapped detainees in northern Syria, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.

Several persons were "mutually and simultaneously" released on Feb. 12 in the Abu al Zindeen district south of al-Bab, which is controlled by the opposition, the ministry said. It did not specify how many people were involved in the swap. According to Anadolu Agency (AA), however, the Bashar Assad regime released 22 prisoners, including a number of women and children.

The armed opposition groups, on the other hand, released 20 male captives linked to the Bashar Assad regime.

The move was part of the second project prepared by a working group, under the Astana process backed by Turkey, Russia, Iran and the U.N., launched to investigate the fate of missing people and release those who have been detained, the ministry added.

Although an initial prisoner swap was carried out last November, hundreds of thousands of people are still thought to be languishing inside Syrian regime prisons.

Meanwhile, Syria's eastern Deir el-Zour province also witnessed disputes between two terrorist organizations, Daesh and U.S.-backed People's Protection Units (YPG). Daesh used foreign hostages as bargaining chips in negotiations with the YPG. According to AA, local sources claimed that John Cantlie, a British journalist who was abducted in Syria by Daesh six years ago, is believed to be still alive and used by the terrorists as a bargaining chip in its negotiations with the YPG.

Ben Wallace, Britain's minister for security, told reporters on Feb. 5 that Cantlie was thought to be alive, but he did not disclose how the government might have knowledge of his condition.

Reportedly, Paolo Dall'Oglio, an Italian priest who was kidnapped in 2013, may still be alive, yet he also used by the terrorist organization as a bargaining chip at the table.

The British Times reported on Feb. 7 that Dall'Oglio is alive and is being held in one of the pockets of territory still controlled by Daesh, citing YPG sources.

The YPG provides the guarantee to Daesh for a secure transition to northern Syrian province of Idlib in exchange for surrender and return of imprisoned YPG militants.

However, some Daesh terrorists of Arab origin wanted to move to Iraq, leading to a conflict between the two terrorist organizations. While the YPG has not clearly decided on the transition request to Iraq yet, alternatively, it proposed a transition to desert areas in Syria's Homs province. Moderate opposition groups in Idlib told AA that they do not want Daesh militants in Idlib and they were ready to fight to defend their lands.

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