Syria demands withdrawal of US, Turkish forces - GulfToday

Syria demands withdrawal of US, Turkish forces


Walid Muallem speaks at the 74th United Nations General Assembly in New York City. Agence France-Presse

Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Al-Moualem on Saturday demanded an immediate withdrawal of all US and Turkish troops from his country and warned that Syrian government forces had the right to take countermeasures if they refused.

The United States has around 1,000 troops in Syria tackling Daesh militants. Turkey has also launched military incursions into northern Syria, targeting Daesh and Kurdish YPG fighters.

“Any foreign forces operating in our territories without our authorization are occupying forces and must withdraw immediately,” Al-Moualem said during an address to the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations in New York.

“If they refuse, we have the right to take any and all countermeasures authorized under international law,” he said.

US President Donald Trump last year ordered the complete withdrawal of US troops from Syria — only to later be convinced to leave some forces behind to ensure that Daesh militants cannot stage a comeback.

The US intervention in Syria began with air strikes in September 2014 under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama. While Syria did not approve a US presence there, the Obama administration justified the military action under Article 51 of the UN Charter, which covers the individual or collective right of states to self-defense against armed attack.

“The United States and Turkey maintain an illegal military presence in northern Syria,” Al-Moualem said, describing US and Turkish efforts to create a “safe zone” inside Syria as a violation of the UN Charter.

Turkey plans to build homes to settle 1 million Syrian refugees in the zone.

The United States and Turkey have started joint land and air patrols along part of Syria’s border with Turkey, but Ankara remains angry with Washington’s support for the YPG, which has been a key US ally in fighting Daesh in Syria.

A crackdown by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad on pro-democracy protesters in 2011 led to civil war, and Daesh militants used the chaos to seize territory in Syria and Iraq.

Assad’s forces have been backed by Russian air power and have been waging an offensive in the Idlib region in the country’s northwest, the last major chunk of territory still in rebel hands after more than eight years of war. Western states have accused Russian and Syrian forces of targeting civilians in northwest Syria, a charge they deny. They say they are targeting militants.

“We are determined to continue our war against terrorism in all its forms until rooting out the last remaining terrorist,” al-Moualem said.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has approved the reopening on Monday of the Qaim border-crossing with Syria, state news agency INA said, the latest sign of normalisation between Baghdad and Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s government.

The crossing will be reopened for travellers and trade, INA reported on Friday, citing Iraq’s border agency chief.

The western Anbar province town of Qaim, 300 km (185 miles) west of Baghdad, was recaptured from Daesh in November 2017 and was the group’s last bastion in Iraq to fall.

It borders the Syrian town of Albu Kamal, which was also an Islamic State stronghold. The towns lie on a strategic supply route and the crossing between them had only been open for government or military traffic.

Daesh in 2014 seized vast swathes of land in both Iraq and Syria, declaring a caliphate across both countries. Iraq declared victory over the group in 2017 and it lost its last territory in Syria earlier this year. Iraq’s government recently called for the reinstatement of Syria’s membership of the Arab League, which was suspended in 2011 over its crackdown on protesters at the start of the civil war.

Erdogan hopes a new “safe zone” in northern Syria will kill two birds with one stone — easing the refugee burden and pushing Kurdish militants away from his southern border.

The US and Turkey have already launched joint patrols this month with the aim of establishing the “safe zone”.

But analysts say the scheme is unrealistic.

In his speech at the UN General Assembly this week, Erdogan unveiled a chart showing ambitious plans for the zone, that would be 30 kilometres deep and run 480 kilometres (300 miles) along the north of Syria.


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