A Syrian girl looks on as aid items to cope with the winter weather are delivered to al-Hol camp in Hasakah governorate in northeastern Syria on January 7, 2019. Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The government in Damascus is optimistic they will reach an agreement with Syria’s Kurds, a senior official said on Wednesday.
“I feel that we must always be optimistic. The past experiences were not encouraging. But now matters are reaching their conclusion,” Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said, Reuters reported.
The Kurdish-Arab alliance of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) and armed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) control more than a quarter of the country including oil-rich areas of Deir ez-Zor province, the farmlands of Hasakah province that is known as the breadbasket of Syria, the city of Raqqa, the Kurdish area of Rojava, and long stretches of borders with Turkey and Iraq.
They have largely avoided confrontation with the Syrian regime throughout the civil conflict; Damascus even retains a presence in the city of Qamishli.
The SDF have gained control of much of their territory backed by the US-led coalition as they ousted ISIS from lands the jihadis once ruled over. America now wants to pull out, leaving the Kurds exposed to an offensive by Turkey, who considers the Kurdish forces a terror group with ties to the PKK.
The SDC tried negotiating with Damascus in the summer, but those talks fell apart when the Syrian regime reportedly demanded too much. The SDC is advocating for federalism and decentralization.
Faced with a threat from Turkey, however, the SDF invited the Syrian army to protect Syrian lands and the SDC resumed talks with the regime.
“Reaching a solution between the autonomous administration and the Syrian government is inevitable
because our areas are part of Syria,” said senior SDF commander Redur Khalil last week.
Deputy Foreign Minister Mekdad said these sorts of statements make conditions favourable for returning SDC-controlled lands to the state.
“We encourage these political groups to be sincere in dialogue that is happening now between the Syrian state and these groups, taking into account that there is no alternative to that,” he said.
Russia, a key ally of Damascus, has reportedly been helping to broker a deal. Kurdish officials visited Moscow, as did Turkey, and Russian military police are now patrolling areas around Manbij, between the SDF and the Turkish-backed forces.
While the political discussions make progress, the SDF continues to hand ISIS defeats on the ground in the Euphrates River valley of Deir ez-Zor province.
But the spokesperson for the force said they cannot let up the pressure and need ongoing support from their allies.
“The Syrian Democratic Forces are committed to the war against terrorism, but ISIS continues to be a dangerous adversary with the ability to launch counterattacks and coordinate terrorist operations within liberated areas,” Kino Gabriel said on Wednesday.
“We need continuous combined military and civilian support to ensure the final and lasting victory of ISIS,” he said.