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Did the Syrian regime approve the Turkish invasion?

Alleged Turkey-Russia deal would see Ankara accept regime campaign in Aleppo in return for Syrian cooperation against Kurds

  • Turkish army tanks drive towards to the border in Karkamis on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern GaImage Credit: Reuters
  • Turkish soldiers on an armoured vehicle are seen in Karkamis on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern Image Credit: Reuter
Gulf News

Dubai: The Turkish invasion of Jarablus, a Syrian city on the western bank of the Euphrates River just south of the Syrian-Turkish border, is seemingly a direct result of the August 9 Russian-Turkish Summit in St Petersburg, Gulf News has learned.

Syrian media was taken by surprise by the military operation, and initially refrained from commenting.

Acknowledgement of the operation only came after the foreign ministry issued a statement later in the day, condemning the “Turkish aggression.”

The mildness of the ministry’s remarks, the lack of action from the Syrian army, and the feeble remarks issued by Moscow all raise doubts on whether the Turkish operation was actually a surprise for Damascus, or if it was silently approved by the Syrian regime at the request of its Russian backer Vladimir Putin.

Two informed sources told Gulf News that 48 hours ahead of the operation, a senior general from Turkish intelligence secretly visited the Syrian capital, deputising for his boss, Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan.

Fidan, said the Syrian source, has kept a back channel open with the Syrian regime since 2011, aimed at monitoring activities of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Ankara is at war with.

Good terms

“He was always on good terms with President Al Assad,” one of the sources said, adding that cooperation is ongoing between Damascus and Ankara via Moscow.

The Syrian warplanes that bombed Kurdish positions in Al Hasaka last week near the Turkish border were part of the deal reached between Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on August 9, the sources said.

The purported deal calls for Russian and Syrian cooperation to crush Kurdish ambitions for statehood on the Syrian-Turkish border.

The Syrian air force is doing its part by attacking the Kurds, who only recently were considered allies in the war on Daesh and Erdogan himself.

The alleged deal requires Turkey to invade and eliminate the Daesh threat on its border in return for the Syrian army’s simultaneous bombing of Kurdish militias, which Turkey believes are linked to the PKK.

Once both threats are eliminated, and Kurdish plans for statehood in Syria are permanently put to rest, Turkey pledges to shut its border completely and look the other way as Syrian troops recapture the strategic city of Aleppo in the Syrian north, with cover from the Russian Air Force.

Syria has long accused Ankara of supporting and supplying opposition fighters in Aleppo.

The sources said that unpublished appendices of the 1998 Adana Agreement between Syria and Turkey may have facilitated the Turkish invasion.

Under the agreement, Ankara reserved the right to practice self-defence “in whatever means possible” throughout the Syrian north if its borders are ever threatened by the PKK.

This clause was never made public, seen as a major concession from then-president Hafez Al Assad.

If revisited today, however, the clause gives a legal pretext for the Turkish operation in Jarablus. Unless the Turkish army stays in the Syrian city, transforming itself into an occupying force, then the Turkish operation is legal and likely to have been approved by Damascus.

The man behind that agreement, it must be noted, was none other than General Fidan, whose deputy visited Damascus secretly this week.