Syrian official says Damascus will retake Idlib, accuses Turkey of occupying Afrin

A high-ranking Syrian government official says Syria has the right to retake control over Idlib if the province is not returned through reconciliation.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A high-ranking Syrian government official on Tuesday said Syria has the right to retake control over Idlib if the province is not returned through reconciliation, SANA news agency reported.

During the 10th round of Astana peace talks, Syria’s United Nations (UN) Envoy Bashar al-Jaafari said the Syrian army has the right to retake Idlib through a military operation if settlements with local rebel groups fail.

In June, several rebel-held towns in southern Syria were returned to Syrian government control under a Russian-brokered deal. Damascus wants the same to happen in Idlib.

Turkey has made clear to Damascus that they would not accept an attack on Islamist rebel groups in Idlib, where Turkey has established 12 military observation points.

“I asked him [Putin] to take the necessary precautions against the possible regime attacks on Idlib, which we would find unacceptable,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last Saturday according to the Daily Sabah.

Jaafari accused Turkey of occupying parts of northern Syria, such as Azaz, Jarabulus, and Bab, and violating Syrian sovereignty by replacing Syria identity cards with Turkish ones in the areas “it occupies.”

“They sent military forces equipped with heavy weapons, occupied Afrin, and expelled its 300,000 inhabitants,” the official said.

During the Astana meetings, Jaafari noted that Ankara’s campaign in Afrin violates Turkish commitment to Syria’s sovereignty.

Some analysts say a Syrian regime operation in Idlib would challenge the Turkish presence in the country’s north.

Nicholas A. Heras, a Middle East security analyst at the Washington-based Center for a New American Security, told Kurdistan 24 it’s possible the Syrian government could take a portion of Idlib, where around 2.5 million people live.

“Assad is looking for rebel-ruled areas that are low-hanging fruit and which will collapse with just the application of regime and Russian air power. Some parts of Idlib fit that description, but the areas under direct Turkish administration in the Euphrates Shield zone do not,” he said.

“Still, Assad should want to force Erdogan to decide whether or not it is in Turkey’s interest to maintain a protectorate in northern Syria,” Heras added.

“The challenge for Turkey will be the precedent that this would set, essentially telling Assad that he can use force in Northwest Syria. Thus far, the Turks have maintained the de-escalation agreement in this region of Syria by being on the ground militarily and stating that no military action is acceptable.”

Syrian Kurdish officials, meanwhile, hope to benefit from the situation and have indicated they would help fight rebels in Idlib if this helps return Afrin to Kurdish control.

Former co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) Salih Muslim told Kurdistan 24 that they are ready to fight “wherever there are terrorists.”

“Fighting in Idlib or Afrin is our duty and responsibility, and when we fight in Idlib, it will be our decision as we are not tools in the hands of others,” he said.

A Kurdish-run self-administration delegation recently met with Syrian government officials in Damascus to help chart a roadmap for Syria’s future and form committees to operate across the country.

Kurdistan 24 spoke with Jaafari on the sidelines of the Astana talks on Tuesday about this meeting.

“A group of our Syrian Kurdish brothers…were in Damascus for peaceful talks with the Syrian government to discuss the rights of all the people of Syria, including Syrian Kurds,” he said.

“These discussions involved the rights of both Syrians and Syrian Kurds.”

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany