Istanbul summit aimed at avoiding new humanitarian disaster in Idlib

An anti-Assad fighter stands at a checkpoint in Idlib. Russia and Turkey reached an agreement last month to set up a demilitarized zone to prevent a regime offensive on the region. (AP)
Updated 22 October 2018
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Istanbul summit aimed at avoiding new humanitarian disaster in Idlib

  • The event will focus on ‘harmonizing joint efforts for finding a lasting solution to the conflict’
  • Germany and France welcomed the Turkey-Russia deal on Idlib that had set Oct. 15 as the deadline for removing all radical groups from a demilitarized zone in the province

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to attend a critical four-way summit on Syria in Istanbul next Saturday. 

They will discuss recent developments in the war-torn country as well as projections for a political settlement.

Experts have underlined the importance of this summit in providing a strong push for key EU countries to work together with regional players to end the years-long conflict in Syria as it will gather the four countries’ leaders at the highest level.

The summit will focus on the recent developments in the opposition-held northwestern province of Idlib, and the parameters of a possible political settlement.

The ways for preventing a new refugee inflow from Idlib into Europe via Turkey, which is home to about 3.5 million Syrian residents, following a possible offensive by the Assad regime will also be raised as a topic that mainly concerns France and Germany and pushes them to work more closely with Turkey and Russia.

The summit will also aim at “harmonizing joint efforts for finding a lasting solution to the conflict,” presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin announced on Friday.

Germany and France welcomed the Turkey-Russia deal on Idlib that had set Oct. 15 as the deadline for removing all radical groups from a demilitarized zone in the province. Although the withdrawal of some opposition groups from the zone has not been accomplished in due time, Ankara and Moscow have agreed to extend the deadline for Idlib, which is still a strategic area where the opposition holds out.

“Turkey and Russia want the status quo for Idlib. Although the jihadists have not withdrawn from the demilitarized zone, Russia is turning a blind eye,” said Fabrice Balanche, an associate professor and research director at the University of Lyon II.

“Turkey will make some efforts to save face. Turkish proxies have withdrawn because Turkey pays wages, so they must obey, but for the jihadists it is more complicated,” he told Arab News.

According to Balanche, without the complicity of Turkey, the Syrian regime cannot take over the north of the country.

“In exchange, Turkey wants a buffer zone in the north, all along its border. The main objective is, of course, to eliminate the Syrian Kurdish YPG from the border as it has already done in Afrin. A secondary objective is to protect its opposition allies and the Turkmen minorities, many in the province of Idlib but also between Azaz and Jarablus,” he said.

But the summit also shows that these four countries need each other in the Syrian theater as each of them has stakes regarding the settlement of the crisis.

Emre Ersen, a Syria analyst at Marmara University in Istanbul, said the main goal of the summit is to provide a major diplomatic boost to the ongoing Astana and Sochi peace processes, which have so far been led mainly by Turkey, Russia and Iran.

“A second and maybe even more important goal is to include France and Germany in the reconstruction efforts in Syria once the civil war is over,” he told Arab News.

Considering the cost of the reconstruction, estimated at about $400 billion, Ankara, Moscow and Tehran are not ready to take this enormous financial burden without the financial support of the West, Ersen said.

“Both Paris and Berlin hope that Ankara’s ongoing efforts to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Idlib can be successful. If the settlement in Idlib does not work, everybody is aware that this may lead to a big refugee crisis for both Turkey and Europe once again,” he added.

Martina Fietz, deputy spokeswoman for the German government, told a news conference in Berlin that her country is also hopeful about the forthcoming summit’s potential contribution to the stabilization of Idlib’s de-escalation zone.

“Progress in the UN-led political process, in particular the commencement of the work of the constitutional commission, will be discussed,” she said.

The chief foreign policy advisers of the quartet have met in Istanbul in recent weeks to discuss the agenda of the summit.


King Abdullah of Jordan slams ‘hate-filled outlaws of Islam’

Updated 36 min 49 sec ago
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King Abdullah of Jordan slams ‘hate-filled outlaws of Islam’

  • Jordanian ruler sounds warning on rising religious and political extremism

AMMAN / SINGAPORE: Attacks on interfaith harmony, mutual respect and trust are the “world’s single most important threat,” King Abdullah of Jordan warned.

Speaking on Thursday at the International Conference on Cohesive Societies (ICCS) in Singapore, Jordan’s monarch condemned both “outlaws of Islam and extremist Islamophobes.”

“Perpetuators of hate-filled messages are distorting our religion’s great heritage and teachings,” he said.

King Abdullah called on the global community to tackle this challenge by “resisting hatred and exclusion,” supporting economic growth and protecting the environment.

In a keynote speech, the Jordanian ruler urged 700 delegates from 40 countries to apply the golden rule. “Loving one’s neighbor is not just an ideal. It is the golden rule that enables all of us to live side by side, to look beyond ourselves, and to achieve what we can only achieve in common.”

The conference was organized by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) with the support of Singapore’s Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.

Ong Keng Yong, executive deputy chairman of RSIS, described the Singapore conference as a platform for constructive dialogue to strengthen mutual trust and understanding across communities.

“Singapore is a multiracial, multi-religious society, and we work hard to keep our country peaceful and secure. At the same time, we are part of the global community, which faces challenges posed by increased connectivity, intensifying identity politics, and infinite technological development,” he said.

King Abdullah listed Jordanian efforts including the Amman Message, the Common Word Initiative, and UN World Interfaith week.

However, when it comes to hate speech on the internet, solutions are not exclusively the responsibility of governments and big companies, he said.

“In a very real way, the internet belongs to its users. Moderate, positive voices need to reclaim this space and redirect the dialogue away from misinformation, insults and fear, and toward understanding and respect. Young men and women have a vital role in speaking up on social media and social networking sites, and using their talent for innovation to promote mutual understanding and hope.”

The Jordanian monarch also called for a “holistic approach to address security and the issues that extremists exploit.”

Perpetuators of hate-filled messages are distorting our religion’s great heritage and teachings.

King Abdullah

“We must also help to resolve conflicts, especially the core crisis of my region, the long denial of Palestinian statehood. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has fueled global discord and radicalism. We all need a lasting peace, meeting the needs of both sides, with a viable, independent, sovereign Palestinian state, on 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital, but living side by side with Israel, in peace and security.

“We must safeguard Jerusalem, a holy city to billions of people around the world. As Hashemite Custodian of Jerusalem’s Islamic and Christian holy sites, I am bound by a special duty. But for all of us, Jerusalem must be a unifying city of peace.”

“King Abdullah is in a very difficult spot,” said Dr. James M. Dorsey, a Middle East expert and senior fellow at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

Speaking to Arab News, Dr. Dorsey said the king’s speech reflects the geographical situation his country is facing.

“Every single border of his country is conflict-risk and impacts the country’s stability. If there is one country that desperately needs to get away from polarization and conflict and move toward conflict resolution, it is Jordan.”

Other speakers are the conference include Dr. Ali Al-Nuaimi, chairman of the World Muslim Communities Council; Bishop Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue; Dr. Nazirudin Mohd Nasir, deputy mufti and senior director at Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura; and John Alderdice, former Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Over the weekend, Singaporeans can experience key elements of the conference through a series of “Heartland Dialogues and Experiences” at locations across the city. These include “learning journeys” and opportunities to speak with conference speakers.

In parallel with the conference, the “Many Beliefs, One Future” exhibition explores human connections across different beliefs through a collection of artworks and artifacts. 

The exhibition is open until June 13 at the Raffles City Shopping Center.

“We must also help to resolve conflicts, especially the core crisis of my region, the long denial of Palestinian statehood. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has fueled global discord and radicalism. We all need a lasting peace, meeting the needs of both sides, with a viable, independent, sovereign Palestinian state, on 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital, but living side by side with Israel, in peace and security.

“We must safeguard Jerusalem, a holy city to billions of people around the world. As Hashemite Custodian of Jerusalem’s Islamic and Christian holy sites, I am bound by a special duty. But for all of us, Jerusalem must be a unifying city of peace.”

“King Abdullah is in a very difficult spot,” said Dr. James M. Dorsey, a Middle East expert and a senior fellow at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

Speaking with Arab News Dr. Dorsey said the king’s speech reflects the geographical situation his country is facing.

“Every single border of his country is conflict-risk and has an impact on the stability of Jordan. If there is one country that desperately needs to get away from the polarization and conflict and toward conflict resolution, it is Jordan.”

Other speakers are the conference include Dr. Ali Al-Nuaimi, chairman of the World Muslim Communities Council; Bishop Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue; Dr. Nazirudin Mohd Nasir, deputy mufti and senior director at Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura; and John Alderdice, former Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Over the weekend, Singapore people can experience key elements of the conference through a series of “Heartland Dialogues and Experiences” at locations across the city. These include “learning journeys” and opportunities to speak with conference speakers.

In parallel with the conference, the “Many Beliefs, One Future” exhibition explores human connections across different beliefs through a collection of artworks and artefacts. The exhibition is open until June 13 at the Raffles City Shopping Center.