Wednesday 16 January 2019

Kurds plea for Assad help to stop threat of Turkish attack

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels gather in Sajour amid rumours of an offensive on the nearby town of Manbij. Photo: Getty Images
Turkish-backed Syrian rebels gather in Sajour amid rumours of an offensive on the nearby town of Manbij. Photo: Getty Images

Josie Ensor

Kurdish Syrian forces yesterday asked the Assad government for protection against a Turkish attack on a flashpoint town.

A delegation of Syrian troops erected the national flag over buildings in the outskirts of Manbij after the invitation - the first time that it has flown in the northern town for more than six years.

However, there was no sign of any official takeover yesterday.

"The aim is to ward off a Turkish offensive," said Ilham Ahmed, a senior Kurdish official.

"If the Turks' excuse is the (Kurdish militia), they will leave their posts to the government."

A statement released by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) said it had invited government forces in, as they are "obliged to protect the same country, nation and borders".

Kurdish YPG fighters in the town are part of the formerly US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) battling Isil.

However, US President Donald Trump's decision last week to withdraw US troops from Syria has left their former allies in the country vulnerable.

The call on Syrian government forces to protect Manbij is the first major concession by the Kurds to the regime of Bashar al-Assad since the YPG seized control of vast swathes of north and east Syria and created an area of self-rule.

Analysts have hailed the development as a major turning point.

A number of Syrian troops arrived in the area early yesterday morning and deployed between YPG and Turkish-backed forces west of Manbij.

A Syrian army spokesman said that all Syrians must "join efforts to preserve national sovereignty" and "defeat all invaders", with reference to Turkey.

The US-backed coalition had a number of special forces stationed in the city.

But it is understood that they will withdraw in the next few days.

Manbij, a town of some 100,000 people, fell to moderate rebel fighters in the summer of 2012 before it was overrun by Isil jihadists in 2014.

It was captured by SDF in an anti-Isil offensive in 2016.

The Kurds have used the cover of the war to carve out an autonomous state in north-eastern Syria.

However, the project looks increasingly unviable as Assad's regime looks to reclaim the whole of Syria.

Kurdish officials have said that they would rather try their luck in negotiations with the regime than risk an all-out assault from neighbouring Turkey, which considers the YPG a terrorist group and has watched Kurdish expansion with growing concern.

"The YPG accepts drinking the poison to stop a massacre.

"Do you prefer your people to be massacred by a brutal dictator like (Turkish president Recep Tayyip) Erdogan or be protected by a brutal dictator like Assad?" tweeted Kamal Chomani, a fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.

Russia, which has long called for the withdrawal of US troops in Syria, welcomed the news.

Spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the development as a "positive step" that could, he said, help to "stabilise the situation".

Arab leaders have in recent days taken steps to rehabilitate the brutal Assad regime.

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have both announced that they are to reopen embassies that had been shut since the beginning of the civil war.

Irish Independent

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