The following is a selection by our editors of significant weekly developments in Syria. Depending on events, each issue will include anywhere from four to eight briefs. This series is produced in both Arabic and English in partnership between Salon Syria and Jadaliyya. Suggestions and blurbs may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Turkey Declares the Offensive
9 October 2019
Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies have launched their military operation into northeastern Syria, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday, adding that the offensive aimed to eliminate a “terror corridor” along the southern Turkish border.
Erdogan said the offensive, dubbed “Operation Peace Spring”, would aim to eliminate threats from the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Islamic State militants, and enable the return of Syrian refugees in Turkey after the formation of a “safe zone” in the area. “Our mission is to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area… we will preserve Syria’s territorial integrity and liberate local communities from terrorists,” Erdogan said on Twitter.
14 October 2019
The United States said on Sunday it will withdraw around one thousand troops from northern Syria in the face of an expanding Turkish offensive while Syria’s army struck a deal with Kurdish fighters to redeploy along the border with Turkey. The developments illustrate Washington’s waning influence over events in Syria and the failure of the US policy of keeping the Syrian government from reasserting state authority over areas lost during the more than eight-year conflict with rebels.
The developments also represent wins for Russia and Iran, which have backed the Syrian government since 2011 when its violent effort to crush what began as peaceful protests exploded into a full-blown civil war. While the US withdrawal moves American troops out of the line of fire, the return of Syrian soldiers to the Turkish border opens up the possibility of a wider conflagration should the Syrian army come in direct conflict with Turkish forces.
The Turkish onslaught in northern Syria has also raised the prospect that Islamic State militants and their families held by the Kurdish forces targeted by Turkey may escape – scores were said to have done so already – and permit the group’s revival.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday said the offensive would extend from Kobani in the west to Hasaka in the east and extend some thirty kilometers into Syrian territory, with the town of Ras al Ain now in Turkish control.
The military operation has sparked international concerns that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) would be unable to keep thousands of jihadists in jail and tens of thousands of their family members in camps.
The region’s Kurdish-led administration said seven hundred and eighty-five ISIS-affiliated foreigners escaped the camp at Ain Issa but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), citing sources in the camp, said around one hundred people had escaped.
Erdogan dismissed the reports and told the state-run Anadolu news agency that accounts of escapes by Islamic State prisoners were “disinformation” aimed at provoking the West.
New reports of civilian casualties surfaced. A Turkish air strike in Ras al-Ain killed fourteen people including ten civilians on Sunday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The SDF said a “civilian convoy” had been targeted.
Russia and Talks Between Damascus and Kurds
13 October 2019
The Syrian government and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been holding negotiations with Russian participation, a Syrian Kurdish politician said on Sunday, expressing hope for a deal that would halt a Turkish attack.
Ahmed Suleiman, a senior member of the Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party in Syria, said the talks were being held at Russia’s Hmeimim airbase in Lattakia, although a source close to the Syrian government said they were taking place in Damascus. “We hope an agreement is reached that halts the war and its dangerous and catastrophic consequences on the citizens east of the Euphrates”, said Suleiman, who is from the city of Qamishli in a part of Syria held by the SDF.
Syrian Army to Kobani
13 October 2019
The Lebanese broadcaster al-Mayadeen said on Sunday the Syrian army would deploy within forty-eight hours to the town of Kobani which is held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces and the nearby town of Manbij which is controlled by SDF-aligned forces. The towns fall within a swath of northern Syria controlled by the SDF that is currently being targeted in an offensive by Turkey and Turkey-backed Syrian rebel groups.
9 October 2019
Turkey’s rebel allies in northern Syria said on Wednesday they would have no mercy on Syrian Kurdish fighters in the northeast, whom they said had left them no choice but a battle.
“Strike them with an iron fist, make them taste the hell of your fires,” a statement from the National Army, the main Turkey-backed rebel force told its fighters. It also called for sparing civilians and those who defected to the rebels.
10 October 2019
Turkey’s offensive on Kurdish-led forces in Syria has left its European allies incensed and fearing new jihadist militancy.
The assault, which began after US President Donald Trump pulled US troops out of the way, also raises fundamental questions over the fate of EU-Turkey ties and further strains transatlantic relations, including trust within the NATO military alliance, diplomats and officials said.
It complicates further any prospect of Ankara joining the European Union and threatens a migration deal between Brussels and Ankara that has slashed refugee numbers entering the bloc but which was under renewed pressure by new refugees trying to reach Europe.
“This is a recipe for disaster, be it for the Turks, the Kurds, or us,” said a senior European diplomat. “This Turkish intervention is a complete distraction that will open up a Pandora’s box.”
Ankara has said it intends to create a “safe zone” to return millions of refugees to Syrian soil, for which it wants Europe to pay, a plan European diplomats have said is unrealistic. All twenty-eight EU governments on Wednesday rejected those plans, saying they would not provide aid. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was blunt, saying: “Don’t expect the EU to pay for any of it.”
But how much Europe can do to pressure Ankara is unclear. It relies on Turkey to curb the arrival of refugees into Europe following a 2016 agreement to seal off the Aegean route after more than one million people entered the bloc.
Arabs are Angry!
12 October 2019
Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit on Saturday led Arab foreign ministers in lambasting Turkey’s military operation in northeast Syria as an “invasion of an Arab state’s land and an aggression on its sovereignty.”
Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohamed Ali al-Hakim, president of the current Arab League session, also condemned Turkey’s offensive into Syria during an emergency meeting of the body, called by Egypt.
According to the final statement, the league called on the UN Security Council to “take the necessary measures to stop the Turkish aggression and for the withdrawal from Syrian territory immediately.”
Turkey dismissed the Arab League statement, saying it misrepresented its military operations.
ISIS Once Again
11 October 2019
Islamic State claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack in the Syrian city of Qamishli which it said had targeted Kurdish militants. ISIS fighters detonated the parked car near a Kurdish security position in the city, the group said in a report on its Amaq news agency. The internal security forces in the Kurdish-led self-administration in north-east Syria had previously said that a car bomb detonated in Qamishli on Friday, killing at least three civilians and injuring nine others.
12 October 2019
Thousands of Kurds and their local supporters rallied in France and in Greece on Saturday to protest against Turkey’s military action in northeast Syria.
In Paris, about three thousand people gathered at the Place de la Republique after an earlier protest near the Eiffel Tower. People carried banners denouncing the Turkish offensive and calling on France to help the Kurds.
In Athens, about two thousand Kurds and Greeks marched to the Turkish embassy in central Athens waving Kurdish flags and banners reading “Stop the invasion now”.