Syria: Run with the hare and hunt with the hounds

NUR ÖZKAN ERBAY
ISTANBUL
Published 17.05.2019 00:06

Run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. The latest developments surrounding Syria call this very common proverb to mind. Although credible diplomatic gains were achieved last year with the contributions of Turkey, Russia and the U.S. to put an end to the humanitarian crisis and find sustainable political solutions for the overdue conflict, the exit door still looks blurry. According to the generally accepted view, in this blurry picture of Syria major roles belong to Washington and Moscow. Yet, the actors on the scene seem to adopt the following tactic: Run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. Their reluctant stance can be illustrated within an example, where both have embraced a vague and contradictory stance, up to now, in order to fully implement the Manbij and Idlib road maps in Syria to end the Assad regime and PKK-affiliated groups' brutal actions.

In fact, Washington's close cooperation with the PKK's Syrian affiliate, the People's Protection Units (YPG), is smoothly underway since Moscow remains silent against the Assad regime's ongoing attacks targeting civilians.

Turkish and U.S. officials held the third meeting of the Turkey-U.S. working group over Syria last December, agreeing to continue the Manbij road map and underlining their commitment to Syria's territorial integrity. Since then, Washington's everlasting romantic relation with the YPG, covering it up under the name of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an umbrella group that is dominated by the YPG, continues at full speed.

The U.S.-led coalition's deputy commander, British Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika of Operation Inherent Resolve, said Tuesday that the U.S.-led coalition already trained between 10,000 to 20,000 SDF forces in northeastern Syria under the pretext of defeating Daesh, adding that the number is expected to grow further. Since there are no real outcomes of the projected safe zone, which is expected to be built-up by Turkey and U.S. in the YPG-controlled area, Turkey's growing concerns over its national security remain in that vein.

On the other hand, when we monitor the situation in Idlib we see a worsening situation on the ground. Thus, important developments center around the city have enhanced Ankara-Moscow diplomatic traffic this week. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan discussed the Assad regime forces and their ally's recent attacks against civilians in Idlib with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in a phone call late Monday. Yet, following intensified regime air raids in the last three weeks caused the death of nearly 150 people and saw the migration of hundreds of thousands of people from the city. The more dramatic thing is that one-fourth of the city's population is made up of children.

After the phone call, Turkish Presidency Communications Director Fahrettin Altun said Monday that Erdoğan told Putin that tensions in the war-ravaged city were aimed at disrupting Turkish-Russian partnership, and both of the leaders affirmed their commitment to the Sochi deal.

Moreover, on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu stressed that mounting regime bombardments on Syria's Idlib put the political solution, which is in its last stages, at risk. Pointing out that the guarantor countries, Iran and Russia have a responsibility to stop the regime, Çavuşoğlu emphasized that the reciprocal harassment on the ground should be investigated by a joint working group as soon as possible.

Seemingly, Turkey maintains its concerns about the situation in Idlib because there are about 3 million civilians in Idlib and about 60,000 armed militants in the city. Although Russia labeled those groups as terrorists and committed to disarming these groups according to the Idlib road map last September, by early this year the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) terror group had taken about 80 percent of Idlib and expanded its control in the area.

30 villages have been evacuated so far

The Coordinator of Syrian Turkmen Assembly Cemil Doğaç İpek told Daily Sabah that around 400,000 civilians were forced to leave the de-escalation zones in Idlib since last September and the regime used barrel bombs against civilians. "Thirty villages in southern Idlib have been evacuated so far. The attacks are getting intense every day and the people of Idlib take shelter in Turkish-controlled observation points, especially on the eastern side of Hama in the Sir Magar region" said İpek.

"We see bombardments of the Assad regime and its allies in civilian areas, on hospitals, maternity places where mainly women and children reside. The regime targets these places which are protected fields even in the worst war situations. For example, two mosques were targeted a couple of days ago. The regime also resumed the use of barrel bombs which increase the civilian death toll." İpek said.

The new military campaign has already started to aggravate the humanitarian situation. According to various nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the Assad regime and Russian forces have dropped more than 3,000 bombs on Idlib in the past three weeks.

Elaborating on the gravity of the situation, İpek said many civilians have started to take shelter in the camps in Atmeh, Deyr Hassan Kah and Kefer Lusin across Reyhanlı in the Hatay province on the Turkish-Syrian border. "The current situation shows us that we are heading to the most critical and dangerous stage of the conflict in Syria. Many Turkmens also get affected by the Assad regime's increasing attacks. They say they are in urgent need of medicine, food and basic needs. The situation may also create a new refugee influx to Turkey which already hosts 4 million Syrians. The U.S., Europe and the whole international community have to follow Turkey's steps in regards to the situation in Idlib. Otherwise, the biggest civilian lost and a new wave of refugee influx toward Europe is inevitable" İpek added.

Commenting on the latest Putin-Erdoğan phone talk, İpek said Moscow's requests from Turkey to enable security in Idlib are not realistic under these circumstances. "Despite this situation, Russia is ignoring Turkey's security concerns in Tel Rifaat. So, Turkey has to continue to put pressure on the Sochi agreement to be implemented were returning to old borders in Idlib was committed," İpek stated. Overall, Ankara still has legitimate concerns over crinkled developments in Syria, particularly in Idlib, Manbij and the whole eastern Euphrates, which all remain in uncertainty because of the deficiencies during the implementation of Idlib and Manbij road maps. In this sense, Turkey's repeated warnings to Washington and Moscow continue. However, it is not predictable how much Turkey will able to sustain its enduring position against all odds.

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