Kurdish forces turn Manbij over to Assad: report
Following the announcement of a US withdrawal of its troops embedded with Kurdish forces in Syria, the Kurds are again making overtures for a separate peace with the Assad regime. Kurdish fighters of the People's Protection Units (YPG) are reported to have turned over the flashpoint town of Manbij to regime forces—marking the first time that the Assad regime's flag has flown over the northern town for more than six years. "The aim is to ward off a Turkish offensive," Ilham Ahmed, an official of the Kurdish autonomous administration, told The Telegraph. "If the Turks' excuse is the [YPG], they will leave their posts to the government." A statement released by the YPG said they had invited regime forces to the town, as they are "obliged to protect the same country, nation and borders."
Damascus confirmed that its forces have taken Manbij, although the US military rejected the claims, describing them as "incorrect." The Pentagon acknowledged, however, that regime forces are moving closer to the town. (CNN) Other sources say US troops remain in Manbij even as Assad forces surround the town. (Middle East Eye)
Regime control of Manbij could also serve as an obstacle to Turkish forces crossing from their buffer zone in Idlib province to attack the Kurdish autonmous zone in Rojava. This attack, believed to be imminent, holds the risk of opening an Arab-Kurdish ethnic war in northern Syria, if Arab rebel forces join the Turkish offensive—as in the taking of the enclave of Afrin from the YPG earlier this year. The Turkish military presence in Idlib is part what has held back Assad from attempting to take the province, winning Ankara the loyalty of Syrian rebel and opposition forces there.
Just as the Assad regime, which has refused to recognize the Rojava autonomous zone, is a dubious ally for the Kurds, so Turkey is a dubious ally for the Syrian opposition. Turkish border troops have repeatedly fired upon Syrian refugees attempting to cross into Turkish territory. And Turkey this year completed a wall along its border with Syria—several hundred kilometers long, three meters high, and equipped with heat-detection cameras. The wall was actually funded by the European Union, under terms of the EU-Turkey deal for containing Syrian refugees and preventing them from reaching Europe. (Der Spiegel)
The Turkish Foreign Ministry even recently broached renewing recognition of the Assad regime—even as Ankara poses as protector of the Syrian rebels.
This comes amid growing (and alarming) signs of international normalization of the genocidal Bashar Assad regime. The US position of de facto support for Assad may now become de jure. The US special representative for Syria, James Jeffrey, confirmed this week that the Trump administration is not seeking "regime change" or Assad's ouster, and accepts that Iran (with massive military forces in Syria backing the regime) will play a "diplomatic" role in a "political solution" to the conflict. His only caveat was that Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers must bring about a "fundamentally different" atmosphere in the country if they expect Washington to fund reconstruction projects. (Jerusalem Post)
This implicitly broaches funding the regime, even as it escalates its campaign of mass murder.
Simultaneously, the Gulf States are said to have launched a quiet diplomatic effort to readmit Syria into the Arab League—eight years after Damascus was expelled for its serial massacres of peaceful protesters against Assad's rule. The Guardian offered this grim assessment of the regime's possible re-admission to the Arab League: "Shoulder to shoulder with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and Egypt's latest autocrat, General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the moment will mark the definitive death of the Arab spring, the hopes of the region's popular revolutions crushed by the newest generation of Middle Eastern strongmen."
In a footnote to this sobering scenario, more Israeli air-strikes on Syria were reported Dec. 25—this time targeting an arms depot in Qatifah, outside Damascus. Three regime soliders were apparently wounded in the strikes, which were assailed by Russia as "provocative." (BBC News) This is certainly a perverse irony given Russia's far more massive bombardment of Syria over the past three years.