Syria Kurds urge Damascus to choose dialogue: commander
Omar Oil Field (Syria) (AFP)
The top military commander in Syria's autonomous Kurdish region urged Damascus on Saturday to choose the path of dialogue after his forces sealed a key victory over the Islamic State group.
"We call on the central government in Damascus to prefer the process of dialogue," Mazloum Kobane, the overall commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces, said in a statement.
He read part of the statement at a ceremony to pay homage to his fallen comrades and celebrate the capture of Baghouz, the very last pocket of territory held by IS, which SDF forces took after weeks of fighting.
The statement urged the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to "start practical steps to reach a political solution based on the recognition" of autonomous institutions and of the SDF's special status.
Syria's eight-year conflict has seen the country's Kurds carve out a large de facto autonomous region in the oil-rich northeast.
The Kurdish-dominated SDF has acted as the ground force of the US-led military coalition that intervened in Syria and Iraq in September 2014 to counter the expansion of IS.
The following year, a Russian military intervention helped Assad claw back key territories from rebels who had seized them in the country's 2011 uprising.
His government now controls about two thirds of Syria, but the northeast remains under the control of US-backed Kurdish-led forces.
Washington has however said it would significantly downscale its military footprint after the defeat of IS.
That has left the Kurds exposed to threats by the regime and Turkey, which fears its own Kurdish population could be encouraged to seek further autonomy.
The Syrian defence minister has issued a clear warning that Damascus had no intention of allowing the United States to maintain its influence over the area.
"The only card that remains in the hands of the Americans and their allies is" the SDF, Ali Ayoub said on Monday.
"The Syrian government will deal with this issue in one of two ways: a reconciliation agreement or liberating the territory (controlled by the SDF) by force," he said.
The SDF also urged Ankara to seek dialogue.
The Turkish government considers the Kurdish component of the SDF a "terrorist" organisation linked to Turkey-based Kurdish militants, and has repeatedly threatened a cross-border military offensive.
? 2019 AFP