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Sunday, 25 October 2020

UN encouraged by 'surge of diplomatic activity' in northeastern Syria

Bassem Aly , Friday 25 Oct 2019
Erdogan & Pence
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence meets with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, October 17, 2019 (Photo: Reuters)
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UN Assistant Secretary-General Khaled Khiari welcomed on Thursday "an encouraging surge of diplomatic activity in northeastern Syria" amid on ongoing Turkish military operations against the Kurds.

“The United Nations takes note of these agreements and welcomes any efforts to de-escalate the situation in line with the UN Charter and to protect civilians in accordance with international humanitarian law,” Khiari was quoted as saying in a UN statement.

“The United Nations also takes note of Turkey’s announcement that ‘at this stage, there is no further need to conduct a new operation outside the present operation area."

In the same statement, the number two official in the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned that "as the situation evolves, a critical challenge facing humanitarian actors is the need to scale up operations from within Syria."

“To achieve this, we will need all parties to facilitate safe, rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access via land and air routes to transport humanitarian supplies, along with an expansion of humanitarian capacity in the northeast," said Ursula Mueller.

On 9 October, Turkish troops, the Syrian National Army, and Ankara-backed militias launched a military operation in northeastern Syria, citing the need to prevent terrorism and bring peace to the area.

The operation mainly targeted the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which started "public mobilisation" as tensions grew.

The SDF are led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG). The YPG, backed by a number of Arab groups, formed the SDF in October 2015, when Islamic State (IS) militants were controlling large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq.

Turkey is concerned about the ties of the YPG with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which Ankara considers a terrorist organisation.

The US backing for the YPG, which reached its peak during the anti-IS operations, has been an ongoing source of tensions between Washington and their key NATO ally.

On 17 October, US Vice President Mike Pence announced that Turkey had agreed to a ceasefire which would see it suspend its operations in Syria and temporarily stop its armed confrontations with Kurdish forces.

In return, the US helped the SDF withdraw from huge territories that start in areas that are located along the borders with Turkey and end with almost 20 miles south into Syria.

Pence said that the Turkish operations would be "halted entirely" after the SDF completely withdraws its troops.

On 21 October, US President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of US forces from Syria, an unexpected move that left the YPG exposed to a potential attack from the Turkish side.

Russia sent roughly 300 military police to Syria on Friday to keep an eye on the northeastern areas along the border with Turkey and watch the withdrawal of the SDF fighters, as part of an agreement between Moscow and Ankara.

According to the deal, which was agreed by Russia's President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi, Turkey will maintain control over the areas it took during its Syria operation, while both sides will jointly patrol the Turkish-Syrian borders.  


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