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Kurd-Arab council ready for 'unconditional talks' with Syria regime

The political arm of the SDF are ready to start talks with Assad [Getty]

Date of publication: 11 June, 2018

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The Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) said it was committed to resolving Syria's deadly conflict through dialogue, and would not "hesitate to agree to unconditional talks".

The political arm of a powerful alliance of Syrian Kurd and Arab fighters announced it was ready for unconditional peace talks with the central government in Damascus on Sunday.

The Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), which is linked to the Syrian Democratic Forces, a US-backed militia that holds much of the country's north and east, said it was committed to resolving Syria's deadly conflict through dialogue, and would not "hesitate to agree to unconditional talks".

"It is positive to see comments about a summit for Syrians, to pave the way to start a new page," a statement on Sunday said.

Leading SDC member Hekmat Habib told AFP that both the council and the SDF "are serious about opening the door to dialogue" with the government.

"With the SDF's control of 30 percent of Syria, and the regime's control of swathes of the country, these are the only two forces who can sit at the negotiating table and formulate a solution to the Syrian crisis," he said.

The Kurdish-Arab alliance controls areas in the north and east of the war-torn nation, most of which are managed by autonomous Kurdish-run administrations that the regime sees as a challenge to its authority.

The comments are the latest in a string of developments indicating an attempted rapprochement between the regime and Kurdish authorities, in an effort to head off a clash.

Last month, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad warned Kurdish forces he could use force against them, if he was not able to take their territory through talks.

Several days later, a delegation from Syria's tolerated domestic opposition made a rare visit to Qamishli, most of which is held by Kurdish forces linked to the SDF.

The SDF visited the Kurdish-led administration to "start a dialogue" with the government, Ilham Ahmed, who co-chairs the US-backed SDC in northeast Syria said last week.

The proposition came days after Turkey and the United States agreed on a "roadmap" to resolve a dispute over the northern Syrian town of Manbij, which is controlled by the US-backed Kurdish fighters, Washington's main ally in Syria.

"The aim would ... be to develop a Syrian-Syrian solution and close the door on conflicts and wars," said Aldar Khalil, a senior Kurdish official.

Ahmed suggested time may be ripe for dialogue with the Syrian government, which has opposed the Turkey-US deal on Manbij. The Kurdish-led administration is under pressure to clarify its relationship with Damascus after US President Donald Trump vowed to withdraw US troops from eastern Syria.

"We are seeking ... a vision that ends the war," said Ahmed. "We want to secure our (self-administration) project and the Americans care for that too.”

Foreign Minister Walid Muallem subsequently said the government was informally talking to the Kurds but that negotiations had not yet started.

Syria's government has recaptured more than half of the country, and the SDF is the second most powerful force with just under a third of Syrian territory. 

Much of the territory currently under SDF control was captured during a US-backed military campaign against the Islamic State militant group. 

Residents in SDF territory have expressed fear that an eventual US withdrawal could cost them their biggest ally and weaken their hand.

But Habib said he expected all non-Syrian forces, including the Americans, to leave.

"We are looking forward, in the next phase, to the departure of all military forces from Syria and the return to Syrian-Syrian dialogue," he told AFP.

The Syrian conflict began after the regime forces brutally supressed peaceful protests in 2011 that called for governmental reforms. Since then, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been killed, mainly by Assad's forces and allies,  triggering the world's worst refugee crisis.  

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