Middle East

Syria's tolerated opposition in rare visit to Kurds

Syrian security officers walk outside the police headquarters in al-Bab, northern Syria, Tuesday, May 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

QAMISHLI, Syria: A delegation from Syria's tolerated domestic opposition made a rare visit to the Kurdish region Saturday after the president threatened to use force to retake areas held by the Kurds.

The Kurds, whose militia spearhead an anti-militant force backed by a U.S.-led coalition, have long pushed for increased autonomy in oil-rich northeastern Syria.

The delegation will meet officials from different political parties in the town of Qamishli.

"This visit is, of course, in consultation with the Syrian regime," a Syrian Kurdish official who asked to remain anonymous told AFP.

"The delegation is trying to play the role of mediator between the autonomous region and Kurdish parties on one side and the Syrian regime on the other," the official said.

On Thursday, President Bashar Assad warned U.S.-backed Kurdish forces he would not hesitate to use force to retake the third of the country they control if negotiations failed.

Damascus recognizes several political parties that describe themselves as the domestic opposition, but opposition politicians in exile accuse them of being a mere extension of the regime.

Mays Kraydiyyeh of the Syrian Democratic Front, a tolerated opposition party, said Assad's warning was "not aimed at Syrians but at Americans and foreign interference".

In Damascus on Saturday, Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said talks with the Kurds had not yet started.

"There has been contact, but we have not yet started negotiating on the future," he said.

After regime forces withdrew from Kurdish-majority areas in 2012, Syria's Kurds worked on building a semi-autonomous region in areas they control.

Kurdish militia control around 28 percent of Syrian territory, including large parts of the northern border with Turkey.

 

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