Kurds announce deal with Damascus on Syria troop deployment near Turkish border


Kurdish protesters hold a banner reading "Turkish state murderer" as they attend a demonstration against Turkey's military action in northeastern Syria, in Paris, France, October 12, 2019

Kurdish protesters hold a banner reading “Turkish state murderer” as they attend a demonstration against Turkey’s military action in northeastern Syria, in Paris, France, October 12, 2019

The Kurdish administration in northern Syria on Sunday announced a deal with the Damascus government on a Syrian troop deployment near the border with Turkey to confront Ankara’s offensive.

“In order to prevent and confront this aggression, an agreement has been reached with the Syrian government so that the Syrian army can deploy along the Syrian-Turkish border to assist the (Kurdish-led) Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF),” it said in a statement on its Facebook page.

The Kurdish administration did not give further details on the agreement or say if it would compromise Kurdish self-rule in the north.

But the announcement came after Syria’s state news agency SANA said the army was sending troops to the north to “confront the Turkish aggression”.

Marginalised for decades, Syria’s minority Kurds carved out a de facto autonomous region across some 30 percent of the nation’s territory after the devastating war broke out in 2011.

When the Islamic State jihadist group swept across the region in 2014, the Kurd-led SDF mounted a fierce defence of their heartland and became the US-led coalition’s main partner on the ground.

The Kurds feel they have been betrayed by their once formidable ally, the United States, and left to fend for themselves in the battle against Turkish forces.

In an opinion piece published Sunday in Foreign Policy, SDF chief Mazlum Abdi said the United States had an important role in achieving a political solution for Syria. “We are not asking for American soldiers to be in combat… We are sure that Washington has sufficient leverage to mediate a sustainable peace between us and Turkey.”

On Sunday Turkish forces and their proxies pushed deeper into Syria, on the fifth day of the offensive, as Washington announced it was withdrawing its 1,000 troops from the country’s north.

“In light of the invasion by Turkey and the existential threat its attack poses for our people, we may have to reconsider our alliances,” he said.

Abdi said Syria’s government and their Russian allies “have made proposals that could save the lives of millions of people who live under our protection.

“We do not trust their promises. To be honest, it is hard to know whom to trust,” he said.

But he said that if the Kurds were forced to choose between “compromise and the genocide of our people, we will surely choose life for our people”.

Damascus, which has accused the Kurds of treason over their alliance with Washington, rejects their self-rule and wants central government institutions restored in Kurdish-held areas, especially in the oil-rich east.

According to the Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor, the Kurdish administration and the SDF “made compromises to Syria in order to stop the advance of the Turkish forces in the north”.

In Sunday’s statement, the Kurdish administration said the deal struck with Damascus “paves the way to liberate the rest of the Syrian cities occupied by the Turkish army such as Afrin”, a majority Kurdish enclave in the northwest.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the aim of the operation — which has sparked an international outcry — was to establish a “security zone” that would extend 30 to 35 kilometres (20 to 25 miles) into Syria and run from Kobane to Hasakeh — a stretch of 440 kilometres.

Since it was launched on Wednesday, the Turkish offensive has killed dozens of civilians and fighters and forced tens of thousand of Syrians to flee their homes.