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Russia's Lavrov says Assad's government must take control of Syria's north

Russia is a long-time supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the future of the Kurds could be secured under the Damascus regime
Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV (AFP)

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday that Syrian government forces must take control of territories in the northern part of the country while stressing that Idlib remains the “hotbed of terrorism”.

"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 said.

The Russian Foreign Minister’s comments came after Turkey and the US seemed to agree on setting up “security zones” in the north, which was first suggested by President Donald Trump.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he had a "quite positive" telephone conversation with Trump late on Monday where he reaffirmed that "a 20-mile (30 kilometer) security zone along the Syrian border... will be set up by us."

The security zones should serve as protection for the Syrian Kurds, who fear a Turkish invasion after Trump announced his decision to withdraw all 2,000 US troops from Syria.

OMAR HAJ KADOUR (AFP)

However, Syria's Kurds on Wednesday rejected the US proposal for a "security zone" under Turkish control along the Syrian side of the two countries' border.

Senior political leader Aldar Khalil said the Kurds would accept the deployment of UN forces along the separation line between Kurdish fighters and Turkish troops to ward off a threatened offensive.

"Other choices are unacceptable as they infringe on the sovereignty of Syria and the sovereignty of our autonomous region," Khalil told AFP.

Meanwhile, Lavrov welcomed talks between the Syrian government and the Kurds.

"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," he said, apparently referring to  Turkey.

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

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

OMAR HAJ KADOUR / AFP

Under an accord reached by rebel backer Turkey and Bashar al-Assad’s ally Russia in September, Ankara was expected to rein in factions in Idlib, the last major rebel bastion, to stave off a threatened government offensive with potentially disastrous humanitarian repercussions.

Last week, a jihadist group dominated by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate sealed its grip on northern Idlib, in a deal ending days of fighting with rival factions.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) signed a ceasefire with what was left of a rival alliance that sees it confirm its supremacy and unites the region under a jihadist-led administration.

Syria's war has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

The Russia-backed regime notched up a series of victories against the rebels and jihadists last year, and is now in control of around two-thirds of the country.

AFP contributed to this report

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