Kurdish statement still leaves future of Syria’s 7th-largest city unclear
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have said that the people of Raqqa, completely taken this week from the Islamic State, will decide their future “within the framework of a decentralized, federal, democratic Syria”.
The SDF pledged in a Friday declaration of liberation “to protect the frontiers of the province against all external threats”, and to hand control to a civil council after the clearing of mines from the city.
Raqqa has a majority-Arab population but Kurdish groups, including the Syrian Kurdistan Democratic Party (PYD), are pursuing Kurdish autonomy across northern Syria with an elected assembly by January.
The declaration did not specify the relationship between Raqqa and the Assad regime, which has rejected any federal system or Kurdish autonomy. The regime’s National Reconciliation Minister, Ali Haidar, said Raqqa’s future can only be discussed “as part of the final political structure of the Syrian state”.
Turkey is also wary of the arrangement because it believes the PYD is part of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK. Ankara said on Friday that the unfurling of a large banner in central Raqqa with the portrait of imprisoned PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan showed the uS had been working with “terrorists”, through its backing of the SDF.
The SDF, led by the PYD’s militia YPG, defeated the final ISIS fighters in Raqqa early this week after a four-month offensive in which several hundred civilians were killed and many thousands displaced.
Pro-Assad Forces Retake Qaryatayn from ISIS
Pro-Assad forces have retaken the town of Qaryatayn in eastern Homs Province, lost to the Islamic State in late September.
The regime military said that, alongside foreign allies, it “restored security and stability” and removed explosive devices and mines.
As a pro-Assad offensive pressed ahead to the east in Deir ez-Zor Province, the Islamic State launched a surprise counter-offensive more than three weeks ago, reaching the town 300 km (190 miles) from Deir ez-Zor city and overrunning a small pro-Assad garrison.
Israel Again Strikes Regime Positions in Southwest
The Israeli military has again struck Assad regime positions in southwest Syria, hitting three artillery targets hours after five projectiles landed in open ground in Israeli-occupied territory.
The Israel Defense Forces said the targets were in the northern Golan Heights. The statement warned:
Even if this is just spillover, this is an exceptional incident and the continuance of such events will be met with a more fierce Israeli response. The IDF will not tolerate any attempt to harm the sovereignty of the State of Israel and the security of its residents, and considers the Syrian regime responsible for what is happening in its territory.
Israel has periodically fired on the regime’s military near the Israeli-occupied portion of the Golan Heights. Earlier in the week, Israeli jets bombed an anti-aircraft battery near Damascus after an anti-aircraft missile was fired at an Israeli warplane. On Thursday evening, Israeli tanks fired on a mortar position that reportedly fired a shell across the border, hitting an open field in the Heights.
The Assad regime’s military said of the latest incident that “the Israeli aggression came after terrorists had launched mortar shells, upon the instructions of the Israeli entity”.
The regime’s Foreign Ministry later wrote letters to the UN claiming that the Israeli strike was “a new cycle of outright collusion between the Israeli occupation and armed terrorist groups”. It expressed surprise at the “UN Security Council’s inability to stop and condemn the Israeli attacks”.
Russia Renews Threat to Shut Down UN-OPCW Investigators Over Assad’s Chemical Attacks
Russia has renewed its threat to shut down the international investigators of chemical attacks in Syria.
The mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism of the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is up for renewal next month.
In an attempt to block a JIM report finding the Assad regime responsible for the April 4 nerve agent attack on Khan Sheikhoun in northwest Syria, killing at least 92 people and wounding hundreds, Moscow has indicated that it will block the renewal.
On Friday, Russian Foreign Ministry official Mikhail Ulyanov responded to the US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, after she pointed to Moscow’s tactics: “This is not true, although I can hardly keep from using stronger words: this is a lie, twisting the facts and crooked gambling.”
Ulyanov framed the Russian plan as dependent “on the quality of the report rather than on its conclusions”.