Time now for safe zone in Idlib: Syrian advocacy group
The U.S. may have to establish a safe zone to solve ongoing conflict in Syria's Idlib province, the chairman of the advocacy group Syrian American Council said Thursday.
"As far as the United States' response to this, President [Donald] Trump has repeatedly called for safe zones in Syria," Bassam Rifai said in a teleconference hosted by the Turkish Heritage Organization where he discussed the latest developments in the ongoing offensive by the Bashar al-Assad regime in Idlib.
The Syrian American Council is an advocacy organization focused on democracy in Syria and is based out of Washington D.C.
The Idlib operation threatens the lives of 3 million people, half of whom are displaced persons who have escaped other parts of the war torn country.
"If there was ever a time to carry out such policies, the time and the place is now in Idlib."
Turkey and Russia agreed last September to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone in which acts of aggression would be expressly prohibited.
The Syrian regime and its allies, however, have consistently broken the terms of the ceasefire, launching frequent attacks inside the de-escalation zone.
Rifai, along with the Syrian National Coalition's representative to the UN, Mariam Jalabi, said the U.S. needs to do more to help prevent further civilian casualties in the province.
Jalabi noted a political solution in the country has been discussed many times but there is an ongoing attempt at using military means to solve it.
"This militarized solution is the way that foreign policy and international communities have accepted as a form of a legitimate way to solve problems for Syria," Jalabi said.
The UN representative said all sides could come together to talk about a solution without fighting "by lifting a finger by the U.S. on any front."
Syria 'bought and sold'
Rifai said throughout the eight-year conflict, the only way Assad has been able to survive is by making deals with other powers that gave them financial leverage.
"Syria has been bought and sold in order to allow Assad to continue to survive," he said.
Iran loaned Assad billions of dollars, and in turn was able to gain a monopoly on the concrete industry, which would be crucial as the country works on reconstruction projects, according to Jalabi. Meanwhile, Russia has leased Syria's largest port, Tartus, for the next 49 years.
No Turkey, no Syrian opposition
One of the main points of tension in Syria has been PYD/YPG forces, which are a branch of the PKK terrorist organization. The U.S. supports the SDF in Syria, despite Turkey repeatedly raising security concerns after the announced withdrawal of American troops from the country in February, saying the pullout would give room to the PYD/YPG to expand operations.
But Jalabi said the YPG have resulted in another "fate that the Syrian people have to suffer from." The Syrian National Coalition's advocate said that the terrorist group has made no attempt at working toward unifying Syria, and that the threat it poses to Turkey affects Syrians as well.
In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK -- listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU -- has been responsible for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people, including women and children.
The PYD/YPG is its Syrian branch, which also works under the label of the SDF.
Turkey has long criticized the U.S. working with the YPG/PKK for the purpose of defeating the Daesh terrorist group. Turkish officials argue that using one terrorist organization to fight another does not make sense.
"We are counting on Turkey to protect our civilians," said Jalabi.
"The [Syrian] opposition is based in Turkey right now and without Turkey for us right now we will have no base because we do not have much support from the international community," she said.