18th Astana Peace Talks Turkey’s gate for invading north Syria

QAMISHLI, Syria (North Press) – Turkish ambitions of occupying new Syrian regions will be present in the 18th round of Astana Peace Talks which is bringing delegations from the three ceasefire agreement guarantors, Russia, Turkey and Iran, in addition to delegations representing the Syrian government and the Turkish-backed Syrian opposition.

The 18th round of Astana peace talks takes place on Wednesday and Thursday this week in the Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan.

On May 23, Erdogan announced his intensions of launching a new military operation in northern Syria to push out the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which he regards as terrorists. Later on June 1 Erdogan specified his goals in the two northern cities of Manbij and Tel Rifaat.

Developments on the ground suggest that Turkey is waiting for Moscow’s and Washington’s consent to launch its military operation.

Kurdish anticipation

Syrian Kurds carry ominous memories with Astana meetings, as Turkey occupied Afrin exactly after the 8th round of talks.

Ten rounds after losing Afrin, Ankara threatens and fuels its media once again about another incursion in northern Syria. The SDF-held areas in northern Syria witness a Turkish military escalation, exemplified in repeated shelling and drone strikes, but is yet to turn into a military operation.

In an interview with North Press, the prominent Kurdish politician Salih Muslim did not rule out a Turkish attempt to get the green light that it seeks to carry its operation. Nevertheless, he said it would be difficult unless Turkey provided “huge concessions.”

The Turkish advance in the Syrian territory is not in the interest of Moscow, Tehran or Damascus, Muslim said.

However, he did not rule out the possibility of a deal that would get Erdogan his green light from Russia to invade Manbij and Tel Rifaat in exchange of giving the region of the Zawiya Mountain, located south of Idlib, to the Syrian government. But “the main force [Hayat Tahrir al-Sham] there is linked to al-Qaeda and does not listen very well to Turkey.”

Iranian rejection

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Saeed Khatibzadeh, said on May 28 that his country rejects any military action against regional nations.

In addition, Iran’s foreign minister postponed a visit scheduled to Turkey at the beginning of June. The visit has not taken place yet and both sides have not provided any explanation.

Iran’s concerns stem from its fear on the two Shiite towns of Nubl and al-Zahraa, located in northern Syria.

The two Shiite-dominated towns are only a few kilometers away from Tel Rifaat, making them easy targets for the Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces, also Known as the Syrian National Army (SNA), if they took control of Tel Rifaat.

Since the outbreak of the Syrian war in 2011, the two towns have been repeatedly targeted by the SNA factions. However, throughout the 11-year-old war the towns have always remained under the control of the Iranian-backed militias and the Syrian government forces.

Haitham Khaz’ali, an Iraqi political analyst familiar with Iranian affairs, told North Press that the Turkish moves in northern Syria violates the Astana agreements.

He said that any Turkish military incursion into the Syrian territory is a blatant assault on Syria’s sovereignty, and this is what enables Damascus’ allies to stand with it in the face of this aggression.

Tense circumstances

Rami al-Shaer, a political researcher close to the Russian Foreign Ministry, believes that the 18th round of Astana talks is taking place in very tense circumstances. He summarized them in the Israeli bombing of Damascus airport and Turkey’s intention to launch a military operation in northern Syria.

Al-Shaer said that Turkey had not officially informed any of its partners in Astana of its intention to carry out a military operation in northern of Syria. “No Turkish military preparations suggesting an imminent military operation have been detected,” he said.

Regarding Moscow’s stance, the political researcher said that Russia would seek to maintain calmness throughout the Syrian territories, including those that are not under the control of the Syrian government.

He said that the tension in Syria would not be resolved without an intra-Syrian dialogue in line with the Security Council Resolution 2254 which lays out the roadmap for a political solution in Syria.

Damascus is obligated

Damascus’ rejection to the Turkish threats came in a strict rhetoric this time, more than the previous ones. The latest of which was the statement of the People’s Assembly of Syria, and the most prominent of which was the statement of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad few days ago. “Any Turkish invasion of Syria will be met with popular resistance in the first stage,” the president said.

The president’s statements coincide with attempts by the SDF and the Syrian army to reach a military understanding, allowing the latter to deploy within the SDF-held areas, which may force Turkey to cancel its military operation.

Riyad Dirar, the co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) told North Press, “The Syrian army is required to protect the borders, and it must carry out this task.”

Finally, amid all these condemnation statements residents of northern Syria still suffer from the daily Turkish shelling. They do not want to go through a displacement experience and end up in a tent, like many before them, that does not protect them neither from the blazing summer nor the bitter winter.

Reporting by Hosheng Hassan, Zana al-Ali, Hozan Zubeir