PHOTO: Regime soldier in recently-captured Salma in Latakia Province on Friday
- Russia-US Compromise to Jump-Start “Peace Talks”?
- Turkey PM: Syrian Kurdish Party PYD & Turkish “Terrorist” PKK Are Linked
- Opposition-Rebel Statement: Access to Aid, Ceasefires Necessary to Begin “Peace Talks”
The Syrian military claimed an advance in northern Latakia Province near the Turkish border on Friday, with the capture of a series of villages in the mountainous area.
The military declared that the Syrian Arab Army and militias took control of five mountains and villages such as Khan al-Jouz with the “killing and injuring [of] more than 150 terrorists”.
Regime troops in Khan al-Jouz:
Supported by intensive Russian airstrikes, regime forces launched their offensive in Latakia in October. They initially struggled to make gains, but gathered momentum at the end of 2015. Last week, the offensive took its biggest prize with the occupation of Salma, a mountain town which is the gateway into neighboring Hama Province.
Rebels counter-attacked near Salma earlier this week, claiming the capture of high ground near the town. Regime supporters said the attack was repelled.
On Friday, Russian troops escorted journalists on a tour of the town. A report by Britain’s ITV:
Syrian troops in front of a police station:
(Photos: Associated Press)
Latakia Province on the Mediterranean is considered one of the strongest areas of support for the Assad regime — the President’s ancestral home is in Qardaha in the province — with its retention essential to the regime’s survival.
Russia-US Compromise to Jump-Start “Peace Talks”?
Three unnamed “Western and United Nations diplomats” have said that Russia and the US are close to a compromise to ensure “peace talks” start next week.
The diplomats said two separate opposition delegations will be invited to the negotiations in Geneva, averting a dispute between an opposition-rebel bloc and Russia.
Russia has objected to the 33-member opposition-rebel negotiating team named last month, saying that the rebel faction Jaish al-Islam must be excluded as “terrorists”. Moscow has proposed an alternative list of 15 names, including Syrian politicians close to Russia and Kurdish representatives such Saleh Muslim, head of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).
Under the compromise, Russia will not block Jaish al-Islam in return for an invitation to its preferred delegation.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said she had no information yet about which opposition delegates will attend the talks in Geneva. A spokeswoman for UN envoy Staffan de Mistura, Jessy Chahine, said a press briefing will be held on Monday to provide more details.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Saturday in Saudi Arabia, “We are confident that with good initiative in the next day or so, those talks can get going.”
Turkey PM: Syrian Kurdish Party PYD & Turkish “Terrorist” PKK Are Linked
Commenting during a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has said the leading Syrian Kurdish party PYD and Turkey’s Kurdish insurgency PKK are linked.
“To say that these [groups] are separate, one would be unaware that those [PKK] guns are coming to [Turkey] from Syria,” Davutoğlu said on Saturday.
He maintained that the headquarters of the PYD’s militia YPG, are in the PKK’s base in the Qandil mountains in northern Iraq.
The Prime Minister warned that Ankara will attack the PYD, as it has the PKK in northern Iraq:
Turkey would do the same thing it is doing to the PKK if it sees PYD as a risk on its border with Syria. The PYD is a terrorist organization that cooperates with the Syrian regime. Struggling against Daeşh [the Islamic State] does not grant them legitimacy.
Davutoğlu said Turkey sees three threats in Syria: “One is the regime, another is Daesh, and the third is the YPG.
The Prime Minister rejected inclusion of the Kurds in any opposition-regime talks, saying only the “legitimate Syrian opposition” should be involved.
Biden echoed Turkey’s line against PKK saying that the Islamic State “is not the only existential threat to the people of Turkey, the PKK is equally a threat and we are aware of that….It is a terror group plain and simple and what they continue to do is absolutely outrageous
He continued, “We do agree with you that, in terms of their actions, Daesh, PKK and [Jabhat] al-Nusra…are simply terrorist groups.”
Praising Turkey for “very important steps to improve the security of its border” from the Islamic State, Biden said Ankara and the US were improving coordination over a “shared mission on the extermination of ISIL [the Islamic State]”.
However, Biden did not comment on Ankara’s tough line against the Syrian Kurds or on Turkey’s position over the “peace talks”.
Opposition-Rebel Statement: Access to Aid, Ceasefires Necessary to Begin “Peace Talks”
The opposition Syrian National Coalition and almost 50 rebel factions have issued a statement about the international process pursuing “peace talks” to resolve Syria’s crisis.
Affirming support for the effort, the statement reiterated that access to humanitarian must be assured, as this is a “basic human right without which it is impossible to begin the negotiating process”. It held the UN and the international community responsible for the “continued siege, starvation, of civilians” by the Assad regime and its Russian ally.
The international initiative, including the UN and about 20 countries, is seeking opposition-regime talks in Geneva on January 25. However, the meeting is unlikely to be convene because of preconditions set by the regime and opposition, and because of Russia’s refusal to accept the opposition-rebel negotiating team established last month.
The opposition-rebel statement rejected “Russian dictates” and “interference in the political process” and held Moscow and the Assad regime responsible for failure.