Is deal for Kurdish autonomy in northern and eastern Syria on the way?
UPDATE, 1115 GMT: The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Council says it has decided with the Assad regime to “chart a road map to a democratic and decentralized Syria”.
The SDC said the two sides agreed to “form committees on various levels” for negotiations and an end to violence.
The regime offered no confirmation of the claim.
A Kurdish delegation is in Damascus for talks with the Assad regime, which could open up discussions on the future of northern and eastern Syria.
Led by Ilham Ahmed (pictured), executive head of the Syrian Democratic Council, the group arrived in the Syrian capital on Wednesday. It includes members of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.
The initial topic is provision of services in areas controlled by the Kurdish-led authorities, following the SDF’s victories against the Islamic State since autumn 2015. However, SDC co-chair Riad Durar pointed to the start of talks over a political deal for Kurdish autonomy: “We have a basis for negotiations,” he added.
In the past, the Assad regime has rejected Kurdish autonomy in a federal Syria. In May, Bashar al-Assad said he was “opening doors” for talks while threatening force against the SDF and insisting that US personnel will leave Syria.
However, the regime has been unable to exert leverage on Kurdish groups and the SDF without the backing of its essential ally Russia. Pro-Assad forces have been unable to take territory, including oil and gas complexes, in skirmishes with the SDF in the past year: a February attack that ended with the killing of hundreds of foreign militia and regime troops by US warplanes.
Speaking from Vienna, Darar said he did not know which regime officials are meeting the Kurdish delegation, let alone the outcome of any discussions.
The co-chair of the leading Kurdish faction, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), Saleh Muslim, was even more cautious:
— Wladimir (@vvanwilgenburg) July 28, 2018
Talks recently began over a return of state employees and repairs to the Tabqa Dam, Syria’s largest, in Raqqa Province.
But the Kurdish official said UN-brokered efforts will fail, having been reduced to discussions of setting up Constitutional committee: “I don’t think this committee will carry out its role. The door of Geneva will be shut.”
Any regime-Kurdish talks could bring complications not only for the US, which switched its effort from the Syrian opposition to the SDF almost three years ago, but also Turkey. Ankara is firmly opposed to any lasting position for the PYD and its YPG militia, the leading group in the SDF.
From January to March, a Turkish-rebel force swept through the Kurdish canton of Afrin in northwest Syria, leaving the Kurdish groups in the Kobani and Cezire cantons in the north and east.
Before the Kurdish delegation went to Damascus, it met with Brett McGurk to discuss the idea. McGurk said the US wouldn’t oppose talks with the Assad regime, but advised the Kurds to focus on phasing in government services. Report by @ibrahimhamidi https://t.co/DOXiMh7GWc
— Hassan Hassan حَسَنْ حَسَنْ (@hxhassan) July 28, 2018
Druze Leader Criticizes Assad Regime After Deadly ISIS Attack
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt has criticized the Assad regime and foreign powers for failing to stop Islamic State attacks that killed about 215 people in southern Syria on Wednesday.
“No one can tell me that the squadrons of many American, Russian and foreign planes did not see this gathering which suddenly took the regime by surprise,” Jumblatt said on Friday.
ISIS fighters stormed 11 towns and villages in Sweida Province, killing residents in their homes, and carried out suicide bombings in Sweida city.
State media insisted the army intervened and battled ISIS, but local sources said youth and militiamen from the area organized to retake the towns and villages.
Jumblatt said that, rather than protecting the Jebal al-Arab area, the regime was trying to draft men into a forthcoming offensive against the opposition in Idlib Province in northwest Syria.
“They want to sacrifice the youths of Jebel al-Arab in Idlib,” he asserted. “We want [Russia’s] guarantee to the people of the Jebel that they will remain in the Jebel and not be used by Bashar as fodder, living or dead, for his personal ends.”