US offers Turkey aid over Syria stance

US offers Turkey aid over Syria stance
The United States pointman on Syria, James Jeffrey, said the White House was considering sanctions to address the situation in Syria.
2 min read
06 February, 2020
Aerial view shows Ariha in Syria's Idlib following a regime air strike [AFP/Getty]

The United States on Wednesday offered help to Turkey and threatened sanctions on Moscow to press the Syrian regime and its ally Russia to halt a major new offensive.

"Certainly, we are moving forward on additional sanctions," James Jeffrey told reporters after a bloody offensive on the northwestern Idlib region. He did not name the targets but suggested they would be in Syria. 

Jeffrey said that US President Donald Trump, under an executive order issued last year, has authority to "go after people who are not supporting the political process and, particularly, not supporting the ceasefire".

"So we're looking at what we can do about that. And we're asking the Turks what help they need," he said.

Trump last year briefly imposed sanctions on senior Turkish officials after Ankara sent troops into northern Syria to battle US-allied Kurds.

Turkey had seized on Trump's withdrawal of US forces from the area and afterwards negotiated an accord on a buffer zone in Idlib with Russia, which backs President Bashar al-Assad.

Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, has since consolidated its position as the main anti-regime faction on the ground, at the expense of Turkish-backed rebel forces.

But Jeffrey doubted Russia's justification that it had come under growing fire from the militants, who are not part of the ceasefire.

"We have seen only intermittent and not very strong or significant military actions on their part against the Russians," Jeffrey said.

"The Russians use this as an excuse, basically," he said, "to launch these massive attacks against the civilians."

Jeffrey said the immediate solution should be a "permanent ceasefire" before talks on "all issues" including the status of the militants.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council will meet on Thursday for an emergency session on Syria following clashes between Turkish forces and forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad's regime earlier in the week.

They said the meeting was requested by the United States, France and Britain. UN envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen is expected to report on the situation in Idlib, where the two armies clashed.

Fighting in Idlib, the last area in the country under opposition control, intensified in recent weeks amid "unprecedented" mass displacement, said the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Read more: In Idlib, Assad's war machine has a lethal message: 'Leave or die'

Nearly 520,000 Syrians have been forced to leave their homes since 1 December. As of 31 January at least 53 health facilities had suspended services due to insecurity, threats of attacks or the fact that entire areas have been rendered empty as civilians seek refuge from the heavy bombardment.

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