Kurd-Arab council readies for talks with Syria government

AFP , Monday 16 Jul 2018

The political arm of a powerful alliance of Syrian Kurd and Arab fighters said Monday it was working on a negotiating team for any talks with the Damascus regime.

The Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) is linked to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a US-backed militia that holds much of the country's north and northeast.

Those areas are outside regime control, and are mostly managed by autonomous Kurdish-run administrations that the regime sees as a challenge to its authority.

On Monday, the SDC gathered in the northern town of Tabqa for a two-day meeting that included Kurdish officials and members of Syria's tolerated domestic opposition.

"One of the meeting's aims is to create a platform to negotiate with the Syrian regime," leading SDC member Hekmat Habib told AFP.

"This platform will represent all areas in the autonomous administration and all areas held by the SDF," he said, without providing further details.

After long being marginalised, Syria's Kurds have largely stayed out of the country's seven-year civil war, instead focusing on building their own institutions.

With Russian backing, regime forces have retaken control of large swathes of Syria since 2015, and now hold sway over more than 60 percent of Syrian territory.

But the SDF still control just under a third of the country including key oil fields, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group monitoring the war.

Much of the land under SDF control, including Tabqa and the nearby northern city of Raqa, was captured during a US-backed offensive against the Islamic State militant group.

In June, the SDC said it was ready for "unconditional talks" with President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

That came after the president the previous month warned he would use force if talks failed to take back land they controlled.

Several days later, a delegation from Syria's tolerated domestic opposition made a rare visit to the northeastern city of Qamishli, most of which is held by Kurdish forces linked to the SDF.

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