Russian FM: Standoff in Afrin could be resolved by Ankara-Damascus dialogue

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov welcomes Pakistan's Foreign Minister during his visit to Moscow on February 20, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Vasily MAXIMOV

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday that the situation in Afrin, northern Syria, could be resolved through direct dialogue between Damascus and Ankara, the Interfax news agency cited him as saying, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Turkey-led forces will begin besieging the town in the coming days, part of Ankara’s operation to drive out the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Tuesday.

Erdoğan said the deployment of Syrian government troops in the region had been thwarted by Turkey after talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A senior Kurdish official said over the weekend that a deal had been struck for the Syrian army to enter Afrin and fight back against the Turks. Syrian state news agency SANA on Monday reported that the pro-government militia would enter Afrin “within hours.”

“The [Syrian deployment] was seriously stopped yesterday… It was stopped,” Erdoğan told reporters following a speech at a Justice and Development Party (AKP) parliamentary group meeting in Ankara.

When asked if the deployment was stopped after talks with Putin, Erdoğan said, “Yes, it was stopped after those talks.”

Erdoğan on Monday spoke to both Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani about Syria, Ankara’s government spokesman said. The three countries also agreed that their foreign ministers would meet in Moscow on March 14, Reuters reported.

The Turkish military and Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters on Jan. 20 launched the incursion named Operation Olive Branch in Afrin against the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Turkey sees as the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Turkey’s foreign minister on Monday warned against any intervention by Syrian pro-government forces alongside Kurdish militias in northern Syria, saying it would not prevent Ankara from continuing its month-old offensive.

“If the regime is entering [Afrin] to oust the PKK, YPG [People’s Protection Units], there’s no problem. But if they’re entering to protect the YPG, then no one can stop us and the Turkish military,” Çavuşoğlu said during a visit to Jordan.

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