27.06.2022 Author: Vladimir Danilov

Search for a Solution for Syria Intensifies

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In recent months, the United States, Israel, Turkey and a number of other countries have attempted to take advantage of Russia’s distraction in a special operation to denazify Ukraine, in order to aggravate the situation in Syria and pursue their own military and strategic objectives in that country.

Thus, the US is trying hard to open a “second front” against Russia in that Middle Eastern country, pushing Israel to intensify airstrikes on civilian Syrian targets, which have recently become a regular occurrence. One of the most recent of these Israeli hostile actions was the bombing by the Israeli Air Force of the outskirts of the Syrian capital on June 10, with missile attacks on the positions of Shiite groups fighting on the side of the government army. The attack knocked out the runway of Damascus International Airport, killing and wounding people, and caused some material damage to the airport structures, disrupting the delivery of UN-sponsored humanitarian aid to millions of Syrians. On June 14, The Jerusalem Post, citing Elaph, published a threat by a senior Israeli military source to Syrian President Bashir al-Assad to bomb his palaces unless he stops or reduces military cooperation with Iran on his territory (although The Jerusalem Post pointed out at the same time that the publication has not yet been able to confirm this information).

To express Russia’s growing concern over the aforementioned aggressive actions of Tel Aviv in Syria, Israeli Ambassador Alexander Ben Zvi was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry for a talk on June 15. It was stressed to him that such actions were unacceptable and that the justification given by the Israeli side for striking the Syrian airport seemed unconvincing. Therefore, Moscow is waiting for further clarifications on this incident.

Russia, Iran and Turkey, as guarantor countries of the “Astana” process to resolve the situation in Syria, condemned the Israeli attacks by issuing a joint statement. It stresses, inter alia, that Israel’s continuing airstrikes on Syrian territory violate international law and Syrian and neighboring countries’ sovereignty, threaten stability and security in the region and must be stopped. The statement particularly stressed that Israel’s use of civilian aircraft as cover for aggression on Syrian territory was a gross violation of international rules and endangered the lives of civilians.

Even The Wall Street Journal admits that Israel coordinates a significant portion of its strikes on Syrian territory with the US military, confirming the report with references to current and former members of the US administration. According to the publication’s sources, many Israeli operations involving strikes in Syria have been reviewed and approved by senior US Central Command and Pentagon officials over the past few years. As the newspaper notes, through such a “coordination”, the US seeks to ensure that Israeli raids do not conflict with Washington’s own operational objectives in Syria.

At the same time, the US itself does not stop flouting international norms in Syria by conducting its occupation policy in this Middle Eastern country, where it is located without any legal basis in the form of UNSC resolutions or the consent of the legitimate Syrian authorities. The Syrian authorities have therefore repeatedly appealed to the UN for an immediate end to this US policy and the presence of US troops on Syrian territory. Especially since the US has already shown the world that it is clearly not up to the task of fighting terrorism in Syria. In addition to Washington’s continued plundering of Syria’s oil resources, much of which is concentrated in the east of the country in the area controlled by the pro-US Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition, the US military continues to kill civilians in the country. And this, in particular, is confirmed by The New York Times investigations.

It is therefore not surprising that the demand for the United States to cease its illegal invasion of Syria and for the UN to outlaw the US occupation troops in Syria is particularly relevant today.

In addition to the actions of the United States and Israel, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s intention, announced back in May, to carry out a new military special operation against the Kurds in Syria, to clear a 30-kilometer zone along its border from Kurdish fighters and to create a border security zone does not contribute to stability and security in Syria. Russia does not believe Turkey’s military operation in Syria will contribute to stability in the republic, the Kremlin has said. Moscow is actively trying to convince Ankara that such action by Turkey would be “unwise” and calls for the issue to be resolved peacefully through diplomatic means. No one doubts the ability of the armed forces to fulfil the tasks set by the leadership of this country. However, Aleksandr Lavrentyev, Russia’s Special Presidential Envoy for the Syrian settlement, said recently that such an operation would not solve the problem, but would create new threats to Turkey’s security. First of all, because neither the Kurdistan Workers’ Party nor the Syrian Democratic Forces will cease to exist and take action against Turkey after such an operation. Furthermore, such a military operation by Turkey could lead to increased separatist sentiment among the Kurds and encourage them to gain statehood, which is not in the interests of Syria, Turkey, Iran or Iraq. Under these circumstances, Moscow hopes that the Turkish leadership will be able to make a correct and balanced decision on this issue, taking into account not only the opinion of the guarantor countries of the “Astana process”, but also the negative attitude towards such a military operation by virtually all Arab states, which have expressed their disinterest in seeing another part of the Arab lands come under the control, in fact, of Turkey.

To clearly aggravate the situation in Syria and relations with Ankara, on June 16 US special forces entered the northeastern Syrian town of Qamishli, which is home to an airfield with Russian air force equipment: Su-34 fighter-bombers and Ka-52 attack helicopters. American access to the “restricted area” was provided by the Kurds, who control it and may indicate a US desire to demonstrate its presence in the region, especially against the backdrop of Washington’s current strained relations with Moscow and Turkey. Days earlier, the US conducted a special operation in Turkish-controlled territory in Syria near the town of Kobani: six US Air Force helicopters attacked a Syrian militant camp, capturing a field commander, a key figure in a pro-Turkish illegal armed group.

Today, three-quarters of Syria is controlled by government forces, but significant territory in the north-east of the country (“Trans-Euphrates”) is occupied by the US and its allied Kurds. Turkey and its armed opposition control almost the entire north of the country, but two areas near the Turkish border and highways leading there are occupied by President Assad’s army, and Qamishli airport is one of the bases of the Russian military contingent. Recently, and this is acknowledged by Turkey and the Syrian opposition, there has been a significant reduction in Russian air force strikes on Syrian opposition-controlled territories, where there has been some adjustment and stabilization of the situation and a fight against radical groups. Idlib remains a problem area, where 11,500 of the 18,000 fighters can be considered moderate, while 6,500 remain irreconcilable radical fighters who should not be there anyway.

To find a solution to the situation in Syria, another round of negotiations in bilateral and trilateral formats was held on June 15-16 in the capital of Kazakhstan, Nur-Sultan, with representatives from Russia, Iran, Turkey, the government and the opposition of the Arab republic. A UN delegation led by Robert Dunn, Principal Political Affairs Officer of the Office of the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, Jordanian emissaries, representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross took part as observers.  The parties discussed the situation in Syria, including the humanitarian and socio-economic situation, the prospects for resuming the work of the Syrian constitutional committee in Geneva, confidence-building measures, the release of hostages and the search for missing persons, and creating conditions for the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland. The next round of negotiations on Syria will be held this autumn, Russian Presidential Special Envoy Aleksandr Lavrentyev said. Russia’s special operation in Ukraine has had no effect on attention to the situation in Syria, Lavrentyev told reporters.

Vladimir Danilov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


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