Representatives of the US-backed Kurdish-led alliance known as the Syrian Democratic Forces are holding talks in Damascus with the Assad regime, apparently with an eye toward regime recognition of the Kurdish autonomous zone in exchange for unity against further Turkish expansion in northern Syria. “A delegation from the Syrian Democratic Council is paying a first official visit to Damascus at the invitation of the government,” the council’s Arab co-chair Riad Darar said. “We are working towards a settlement for northern Syria. We hope that the discussions on the situation in the north will be positive.” The SDF controls more than 27% of Syrian territory. (France24) In effect, that means this region is under the Rojava autonomous administration, which is the real political force behind the SDF. The Rojava leadership’s cooperation in a Syrian carve-up deal may be the price of survival for their autonomous zone. But it would certainly vindicate the long-standing accusations of Kurdish collaboration with Assad—despite Assad’s previous refusal to recognize the autonomous zone. It would also yet further heighten the risk of Kurdish-Arab ethnic war in northern Syria.
This already seems increasingly inevitable. A sobering BBC World Service report from Turkish-occupied Afrin, formerly a Rojava autonomous canton, paints a grim picture. Kurds who fled the fighting have faced problems trying to return to their homes, with a big demographic shift being effected under Turkish occupation. Kurdish reisdents, speaking in whispers to avoid being heard by the reporter’s Turkish handlers, said the town is now 50-50 Kurdish-Arab, whereas before it was 95% Kurds. There are acusations of looting of Kurdish homes and businesses. Arabs now dominate the town’s administration, while the streets are dominated by armed men on motorbikes—some of whom salute the Turkish troops in their armored vehicles with the hand gesture of the notorious Grey Wolves, the far-right Turkish paramilitary network. A sign near the entrace to town has been painted with the words, “There is one God; his army is Turkish.”
Meanwhile in southern Daraa governorate, where Assad regime forces are rapidly advancing on the last pockets of opposition control, leaders of the White Helmets volunteer first-responder group have issued an urgent call for evacuation. Some were already evacuated to Jordan in an Israeli-led mission, but many more were apparently left behind, and are seeking evacuation to Idlib, the last rebel-controlled governorate in Syria.
“We want the UN or any international agency to remove the White Helmet volunteers from Deraa to Idlib so we can continue to work in the north of Syria,” said Majd Khalaf, one of the founders of the White Helmets. Speaking by phone from Istanbul, he declined to say how many White Helmets are still at risk in the area, but said that the group has more than 3,700 men and women in Syria, and that more than 200 volunteers have been killed over the seven-year civil war. (Reuters)
Assad has issued this threat to the remaining White Helmets: “The fate of White Helmets will be the same as any other terrorist. They have two choices: to lay down their arms and use the amnesty we have offered over the last four or five years, or be killed like the other terrorists.” A comment that was of course approvingly echoed by RT.
Rebel leaders have dismissed Assad’s do-called amnesty offer as “meaningless,” (LAT) Given the Assad regime’s ongoing extermination of detainees—which has now arguably reached the point of genocide—the White Helmets and others seeking evacuation from Daraa have every reason to fear the worst.
After years of silence, the Assad regime has now issued a deluge of death notices for political detainees—hundreds over the past few months. Since Syria’s uprising began in 2011, more than 104,000 have been detained or forcibly disappeared, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights. As many as 90% are believed to have been held in regime custody, across a network of prisons where torture, starvation and other forms of “lethal neglect” are systematically used to kill. The remaining 10% are thought to be held by rebel and other armed groups. Most documents reviewed by The Washington Post said the detainees had died between 2013 and 2015. (WaPo)
Photo of Kurdish fighters in Rojava via Rudaw