EU, UN agree Sochi deal must be ‘fully implemented’

By Munira Abdelmenan

ANKARA (AA) – European Union and the United Nations have expressed support for the Sochi agreement between Russia and Turkey on the stabilization of Syria, the EU said on Friday.

Following a meeting of Special UN Syria Envoy Staffan de Mistura and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in Brussels, a statement said the representatives "discussed the latest developments in the Syria crisis, particularly the situation in Idlib."

According to the statement, Mistura and Mogherini highlighted "the need for a full implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding that was reached by the Presidents of Russia and of Turkey."

It said: "Furthermore, they stressed the importance of the establishment of the constitutional committee in order to restart the process for a credible, political transition in Syria."

"In particular, the High Representative and the Special Envoy discussed ways in which the European Union can support this process, including in the run up to the Brussels III Conference next spring.

Mogherini also expressed the full support of the EU for Mistura's work ahead of his visit to the Syrian capital Damascus, where he intends to advance preparations to convey the first meeting of the constitutional committee in November.

Following a meeting in Russia’s port city of Sochi last month between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, the two countries agreed to establish the Idlib demilitarized zone.

Ankara and Moscow also signed a memorandum of understanding calling for the “stabilization” of Idlib's de-escalation zone, in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.


Germany hopeful of Syria summit in Istanbul

By Ayhan Simsek

BERLIN (AA) – Germany on Friday expressed hope that the upcoming Istanbul summit on Syria would contribute to “stabilization” of Idlib's de-escalation zone.

Martina Fietz, government’s deputy spokeswoman, told a news conference in Berlin that Merkel will travel to Istanbul on Oct. 27, for the quadrilateral summit between leaders of Turkey, Russia, Germany and France.

“Some of the agenda items will include situation in Idlib, support for the Sochi agreement between Russia and Turkey on the stabilization of Syria. In addition to that, progress in the UN-led political process, in particular the commencement of the work of the constitutional commission will be discussed,” she said.

Fietz reaffirmed Germany’s support for the Sochi agreement, and expressed hope the Istanbul summit will contribute to its implementation.

“There is an expectation for a gradual process for the stabilization of Syria. Indeed this would be a long and difficult process,” she added.

The meeting, which will be hosted by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will also see the participation of Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Turkey 'makes life miserable' for terrorists: Erdogan

By Diyar Guldogan

ANKARA (AA) – Turkey "makes life miserable" for terrorists anywhere in the world, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday.

"While we had difficulties to struggle with terrorists even within our borders until recently, today we make life miserable for terrorists anywhere in the world from Iraq to Syria, from Europe to Central Asia," Erdogan said at the opening ceremony for the new academic year at Dokuz Eylul University in western Izmir province.

Also mentioning Turkey’s humanitarian efforts, Erdogan said Turkey gains world's appreciation with its humanitarian stance, along with its cross-border operations to protect the country's security.

"If hopes are still alive in Syria at a time when everyone turns backs [on Syria], the biggest share belongs to Turkey," he said.

Erdogan recalled that Turkey hosts more than 3.5 million Syrians and 500,000 Iraqis.

"We do all these as per humanitarian, conscientious and Islamic duty," he said.

Quadrilateral summit on Syria to be held in Istanbul

By Diyar Guldogan

ANKARA (AA) – A quadrilateral summit on Syria between Turkey, Russia, Germany and France will be held in Istanbul on Oct. 27, Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Friday.

The meeting, which will be hosted by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will see the participation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.

"The summit will aim to address the Syrian conflict with all its aspects, focusing on the situation on the ground, the Idlib agreement and the political process, and to harmonize joint efforts for finding a lasting solution to the conflict," Kalin said in a statement.

Turkey hosts 3.5 million Syrian refugees, more than any other country in the world. The country has spent more than $32 billion from its own national resources for helping and sheltering refugees since the beginning of the Syrian civil war.

Syria has only just begun to emerge from a devastating conflict that began in 2011 when the Assad regime cracked down on demonstrators with unexpected ferocity. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people are believed to have been killed and millions more displaced by the conflict.

UN praises changes for the better in Syria

GENEVA (AA) – Things are getting better in Syria for the first time in three years, said a top UN diplomat on Thursday.

"We have now had five weeks without any attack. I cannot remember such a period for the last three years in Idlib," Jan Egeland, an advisor to Special UN Syria Envoy Staffan de Mistura, told reporters at the UN in Geneva.

But he also said the terrorist groups of the PKK/YPG and the Bashar al-Assad regime have attacked thousands of civilians in eastern Syria.

Underlining his hopes for diplomacy, Egeland expressed his joy to see Turkey and Russia reach agreements.

"The Russian and Turkish sides have indicated that more time will be given to implementing the agreement” reached in Sochi, Russia, for the northern Syrian province of Idlib.

“There will be more time for diplomacy," he added.

According to Egeland, the UN have 12,000 humanitarian workers in Syria and donors have released aid which was frozen out of fear it would never reach anyone due to a lack of security.

"We have now a window of opportunity to help people and that is important before the winter,” he said, adding that a relief convoy with food, health and personal care items will be sent to Rukhban, southeastern Syria.

Egeland said there are reports of deaths in the area due to lack of relief supplies. "The last time we reached Rukhban was last January," he added.

"7,000 civilians fled the area with little international attention," Egeland said.

In the Sochi agreement, Ankara and Moscow signed a memorandum of understanding calling for the “stabilization” of Idlib's de-escalation zone, in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.

Under the deal, opposition groups in Idlib will remain in areas in which they are already present, while Russia and Turkey will conduct joint patrols in the area with a view to preventing renewed fighting.

Reporting by Bayram Altug; Writing by Munira Abdelmenan Awel

In post-Daesh Raqqah, slain locals await proper burials

By Omer Koparan, Adham Kako and Levent Tok

RAQQA/ANKARA (AA) – It has been a year since Syria's Raqqa province, once known as a Daesh stronghold, came under the control of the YPG/PKK terrorist group.

Today, the bodies of slain civilians — found in numerous mass graves — are being prepared for proper burials.

The YPG/PKK seized the war-torn province — with U.S. air cover — on Oct. 17 of last year.

Throughout the last 12 months, numerous mass graves have been found in the city based on information obtained from the families of the missing.

Raqqa’s so-called “civil assembly”, set up in an attempt to justify the YPG/PKK’s ongoing occupation of the city, has granted some Arab residents positions on the assembly to give the impression that the local community has a say in the city’s administration.

Ilyas Hamish, a member of the civil assembly responsible for issues related to the mass graves, told Anadolu Agency on Thursday that the local authorities had found most of the graves based on information provided by grieving families.

"We are currently working in the city’s Old Mosque district, where there appear to be 50 to 80 bodies," he said.

Noting that most of the bodies had been improperly buried, Hamish said that 30 of them had since been disinterred and were now being prepared for reburial.

Mahmoud Ahmad, who was forced to bury his child in the area, said his son was killed by a U.S. airstrike.

“We buried my son here when airstrikes were raining down on Raqqa and we couldn't take him to a proper cemetery,” Ahmad lamented.

He went on to recount how he and his family had fled Raqqa after the hasty burial of his son.

“We thought of it [his son’s burial] as a temporary solution. But upon our return, we encountered great difficulty finding the burial site again,” he said.

“There were only four people buried here back then; now there are more than 100,” he added.

In a report released last week, an activist group that documents atrocities in the city (dubbed "Raqqa is being slaughtered silently") stated: "Raqqa’s civil assembly received financial support from the [U.S.-led] coalition to find bodies, remove debris, and sweep for landmines and explosives.”

“But the assembly has does almost nothing regarding these issues," the report states, adding that some 3,000 bodies had so far been unearthed from the mass grave found near the city center.

– YPK/PKK terror

For the past year, the YPG/PKK has oppressed and terrorized Raqqa’s local population — as it has in other areas under its control.

It has forcibly recruited civilians into its ranks and has prevented many local residents from rebuilding their homes, many of which were destroyed last year by intense coalition airstrikes.

The YPG/PKK, however, does not provide any public services, while residents accused of having links with the opposition frequently face arbitrary detention.

In a report published last December, the U.K.-based Syrian Network for Human Rights said a total of 2,323 civilians had been killed in Raqqa in the period from November 2016 to October 2017.

*Ali Murat Alhas contributed to this report from Ankara

‘Syrians always warmly welcomed in Turkey’

By Ridvan Korkulutas

GAZIANTEP, Turkey (AA) – Syrians have always been warmly welcomed in Turkey since the beginning of their country’s civil war, the European Union’s ambassador to Turkey said Wednesday.

“There are some places in southeastern Turkey where more Syrians live than Turks,” said Christian Berger, who is in Turkey’s southeastern province of Gaziantep as part of a press trip for journalists from 14 countries to promote Turkey.

“But Syrians have always been warmly welcomed and taken care of in the last seven years,” Berger added.

Turkey hosts more Syrian refugees than any other country in the world. The country has spent more than $32 billion from its own national resources for helping and sheltering refugees since the beginning of the Syrian civil war.

Syria has only just begun to emerge from a devastating conflict that began in 2011 when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on demonstrators with unexpected ferocity.

UPDATE – UN Syria envoy resigning post


By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) – The UN's Syria envoy announced Wednesday he will leave his post at the end of November for personal reasons.

"My desire is for purely personal reasons to move on," Staffan de Mistura told the Security Council. "I am not laying down the charge until the last hour of the last day of my mandate."

He will be departing as of the last week of November after serving for more than four years as the UN's point person for the conflict in Syria.

The Italian-Swedish diplomat is the third person to hold the position after former UN Secretary General Kofi Annon and Algerian envoy Lakhdar Brahimi quit the post in 2012 and 2014 respectively.

De Mistura has been running intra-Syrian talks since late 2017 seeking to draft a new constitution for Syria and establish requirements for UN-supervised elections. He said he is going to actively work to convene the constitutional committee before he leaves office, but said the UN is not ready to convene the group unless it is credible and balanced.

He confirmed that he will be traveling to Damascus at the request of the regime next week to discuss the committee's formation, and intends to invite Russia, Iran and Turkey to Geneva for talks before he departs by the end of this month.

The three countries are known as the Astana Guarantors for talks they have mediated in the Kazakh capital.

*Betul Yuruk contributed to this report from the United Nations