Syria Deeply: Astana talks fall short, rising hostility between Turkey and YPG and cease-fire violations in southern Syria
Jul. 7th, 2017
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We’ll always have Astana: Another round of talks kicked off in Astana on Tuesday and, in what has become almost tradition for Syria negotiations, they ended with the promise of reconvening at a later date to resume discussions.
Talks in the Kazakh capital aimed to continue negotiations and solidify an earlier memorandum signed by Russia, Iran and Turkey in May to create four de-escalation zones in the country. The three co-sponsors failed to finalize details of the agreement by the original June 4 deadline.
After two days of negotiations this week about the actual implementation of this plan on the ground, Russia’s chief negotiator Alexander Lavrentiev said that the logistics would still “need finalizing,” adding that details were “essentially agreed” upon.
Early in the negotiations, Lavrentiev said that Russian troops could be deployed to secure the boundaries of the four zones within two to three weeks if Moscow, Turkey and Iran reached an agreement in Astana. However, it seems Russia spoke to soon, and on Wednesday, Lavrentiev said they had not reached a definitive agreement about “which specific forces” would police the zones, which has been a major point of contention throughout negotiations.
The opposition delegation was, unsurprisingly, skeptical about this proposal. An opposition representative told Reuters that they believed the agreement aimed “to set out the areas of influence between the three states that sponsor it… if we want to interpret it on the Syria-wide level, it represents the strengthening of Russian and Iranian influence on the ground.”
Iran, Russia and Turkey agreed to resume discussions in Astana in the final week of August.
Turks, Kurds ramp up hostile rhetoric: Turkey has deployed military units near Kurdish-held areas of northwestern Syria, resulting in protests and hostile rhetoric from Kurdish groups.
Speaking to Reuters, Sipan Hemo, the head of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, accused Turkey of preparing for a significant military push in the northern Syria areas of Aleppo and Afrin. “These [Turkish] preparations have reached level of a declaration of war and could lead to the outbreak of actual clashes in the coming days. We will not stand idly by against this potential aggression.”
Turkey’s deputy prime minister Numan Kurtulmus responded that Turkey was not making a “declaration of war” but rather “making preparations against potential threats.” However, he also claimed that YPG’s “primary goal is a threat to Turkey,” vowing to retaliate if “Turkey sees a YPG movement in northern Syria that is a threat to it.”
Anti-Turkish sentiment has already escalated in the Kurdish-controlled town of Afrin, after thousands of people took to the streets on Wednesday in a Democratic Union Party (PYD)-organized protest against Turkish military intervention. Demonstrations began after shelling from the Turkish military and its opposition allies killed a woman and two of her children in the northern Aleppo countryside on Tuesday.
A shaky cease-fire In southern Syria: A temporary cessation of hostilities has been in effect in Syria’s southern province since Monday, and has been extended until Saturday.
The Syrian army announced the brief cease-fire in the provinces of Daraa, Quneitra and Sweida “to support the peace process and national reconciliations.”
However, both sides have violated the cease-fire, after rebel leaders accused the army of carrying out barrel bomb attacks in opposition-held areas of Daraa city, the town of Naima and the Daraa countryside, shortly after the cessation of hostilities came into effect.
Syria’s famed Ramadan TV dramas have slowly started to reappear in recent years, with the plot-lines increasingly focused on the war. This year, however, many of the productions were postponed, halted or went unsold and did not air during the holy month.
The ICRC’s Damascus-based communication coordinator, Pawel Krzysiek, discusses the factors contributing to the unprecedented toll of urban warfare on Syria’s civilians, and what the warring parties and their supporters must do to save lives.
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