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North Syria must be under regime control, says Russia

Lavrov said the future of the Kurds could be secured under regime control [Getty]

Date of publication: 16 January, 2019

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday the Syrian regime must take control of the country's north, following calls from the US for a Turkish-controlled "security zone".
The Syrian regime must take control of the country's north, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday, after calls from the US to set up a Turkish-controlled "security zone" in the area.

"We are convinced that the best and only solution is the transfer of these territories under the control of the Syrian government, and of Syrian security forces and administrative structures," Lavrov told reporters. 

Turkey said on Tuesday it would set up the "security zone" in northern Syria following a suggestion from President Donald Trump, who announced last month he was pulling American troops from the country.

The US-allied Kurds, who control much of northern Syria, have rejected the idea, fearing a Turkish offensive against territory under their control.

Russia is a long-time supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Lavrov said the future of the Kurds could be secured under regime control.

"We welcome and support contacts that have now begun between Kurdish representatives and Syrian authorities, so they can return to their lives under a single government without outside interference," Lavrov said during an annual press conference.

He said there was progress in resolving Syria's seven-year conflict and that the focus should remain on Idlib, the northwestern province that earlier this month fell under the full control of a jihadist group dominated by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

"The Syrian settlement is progressing, though of course more slowly than we would like," he said. "The fight against terrorism must be completed. Now the main hotbed of terrorism is Idlib."

The Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) have been the key US ally in the fight against the Islamic State group (IS), taking heavy losses in a campaign now nearing its conclusion, with the jihadists confined to an ever-shrinking enclave of just 15 square kilometres (under six square miles).

Ankara regards the YPG as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has waged a deadly insurgency for self-rule in southeastern Turkey since 1984.

The Turkish army has launched two major operations in Syria - Euphrates Shield in 2016 against IS and Syrian Kurdish fighters, and Olive Branch in 2018 targeting the Kurds. 

The last offensive saw Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel allies overrun the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in the northwest, one of several the Kurds had governed since 2012.

Critics have accused Turkish troops and their proxies of the military occupation of Syrian sovereign territory.

The Syrian war began when Assad responded with military force to peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms during the Arab Spring wave of uprisings.

At least tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in the war, mostly by the regime and its powerful allies, and millions have been displaced both inside and outside of Syria.

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