Syrian government pushing for reconciliation deals with SDF-held regions

"Yet, for the most part, the Arab population of NES has rejected such a settlement."
The Syrian government has created a reconciliation center in al-Sabkha town in Raqqa province (Photo: SANA)
The Syrian government has created a reconciliation center in al-Sabkha town in Raqqa province (Photo: SANA)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The Syrian government is once again pushing for reconciliation deals with Arab-majority regions currently controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Russia previously said it mediated talks between the Syrian government and the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) in the past, but no progress was made.

Mazloum Abdi, the Commander-in-Chief of the SDF, also earlier told the Washington Institute's Project Fikra Forum that the Syrian government is not interested in resolving its differences with the SDF.

Read More: SDF chief says Damascus not ready for solution to Syrian crisis

"We have concluded that the [Bashar al-Assad] regime is not currently ready to reach solutions," Abdi said.

"The regime speaks from the position of the victor, and, from its point of view, it has the right to impose its decisions and return to the status quo of 2011." 

As a result, the Syrian government and Russia are approaching Arab tribes based on the Daraa model in SDF-held northeast Syria. Russia hopes to pressure the SDF and the AANES to hand Arab-majority areas back to Damascus.

In July 2018, there was a reconciliation deal between the government and rebels, which resulted in the former retaking control of the southern stronghold of Daraa from latter. The SDF has rejected such an approach and has called for recognition of the AANES. 

Nevertheless, there is still unrest in Daraa, such as assassinations and occasional clashes.

Syrian state-controlled news agency SANA reported on Saturday that the Syrian government has created a reconciliation committee in the government-controlled al-Sabkha town southeast of the city of Raqqa. 

Abdul Razzaq Khalifa, Raqqa's governor, claimed that the SDF obstructed people from reaching al-Sabkha from areas in Raqqa province that it still controls.

Sheikh Hamed al-Faraj, the leader of the influential al-Walida clan in Tabqa, pushed back against 'regime' reconciliations in an interview published on the SDF website. 

"Where were these settlements and reconciliations when terrorism was spilling our blood every day, and how can those killers come to terms with their victim?" al-Faraj said.

Al-Faraj said that all those who made "settlements" in Daraa and other areas are being prosecuted or detained in prisons run by Syrian intelligence. He added that "settlements" are a scheme through which the intelligence tries to spread sedition and propaganda to undermine coexistence. However, he stressed that they "have never succeeded."

Arab tribes in Raqqa and Tabqa have also reportedly rejected the reconciliation offered by Damascus.

On Jan 11, a seminar was held in the town of Abu Hamam in the countryside of Deir al-Zor on the reconciliation attempts by Damascus, the website of the SDF-linked Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) said. 

During the seminar, Syrian opposition activist Dr. Muhammad Khaled Al-Shaker said that the "reconciliations" are just propaganda and an attempt by Damascus to return Syria to its pre-2011 status quo.

"The government has always believed that the Arabs of eastern Syria would be happier under the authority of Damascus than the SDF," Nicholas A. Heras, Senior Analyst and Program Head for State Resilience and Fragility in the Human Security Unit at the Newlines Institute, told Kurdistan 24.

"Russia is a big proponent of the Daraa reconciliation model, which is limited local autonomy and amnesty from the regime's security services in exchange for disarming and returning under regime authority, for the Arab areas in eastern Syria," he said. 

He added that "reconciliation is a type of stabilization model on the cheap because it does not commit Damascus to any significant reforms in how it governs while also withholding any promises for money for local development."

Sasha Hoffman, a Syria-based researcher at the Rojava Information Center (RIC), said that the AANES has long sought a settlement with the government in Damascus to stabilize and normalize relations, "as well as for the Syrian Arab Army to take its territorial defense duties seriously, particularly in relation to Turkish-occupied Syrian territory."

"However, any settlement with the AANES will have to include the right to self-determination for NES (Northeast Syria) and will have to make provisions for a democratic future," she told Kurdistan 24. "The AANES has previously heavily criticized the Assad government for merely providing lip service to such a settlement while crushing dissent in, for example, in Daraa and Suwaydah."

"In their latest attempt at wooing NES' population into a 'reconciliation settlement,' the Damascus government has targeted its Arab-majority areas," she said. "Yet, for the most part, the Arab population of NES has rejected such a settlement."

The RIC researcher also said that protests against rapprochement took the streets in Tabqa, Raqqa, and even violence-plagued Deir al-Zor, all Arab-majority areas.

"The AANES, Raqqa tribal chiefs, and the Deir al-Zor Civil Council have all issued statements condemning anyone who takes up the Damascus government's offer," Hoffman said. "Voices critical of the AANES have long said that the Kurdish-majority regions would accept limited autonomy in exchange for a return of the Arab-majority areas into government hands."

"The AANES has rejected any such bid."