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Ilham Ahmed to Asharq Al-Awsat: Giving Legitimacy to Syrian Regime Will Not Yield Political Solution

Ilham Ahmed to Asharq Al-Awsat: Giving Legitimacy to Syrian Regime Will Not Yield Political Solution

Saturday, 25 February, 2023 - 07:15
A general view shows a damaged mosque in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake, in opposition-held al-Maland village, in Idlib province, Syria February 24, 2023. (Reuters)

Head of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) Ilham Ahmed said cooperating with the Damascus regime “unconditionally” will only grant it some form of legitimacy and will not lead to a political solution to the Syrian conflict.

Her remarks reflect the SDC’s opposition to Arab and regional efforts to normalize ties with the regime, most notably in wake of the disaster caused by the devastating earthquake that struck Syria and neighboring Türkiye on February 6.

The SDC is the political arm of the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that controls northeastern Syria.

In an interview to Asharq Al-Awsat, Ahmed revealed that American officials assured the Kurds that the recent sanctions waivers on Syria do not go against the Ceasar Act. The sanctions were eased to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to the victims of the earthquake.

Asked about her position about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's recent trip to Oman, his second in a decade since the eruption of the Syrian conflict, she replied: “I don’t believe such visits will lead to a political solution in Syria.”

She explained that the unconditional approach to the regime will only grant it legitimacy and not yield political solutions.

“The regime has not changed a fraction of its policies,” she stressed. “These visits will not serve the Syrian people.”

“The delivery of international and Arab humanitarian aid should be monitored by international observers and distributed fairly to all citizens who were affected by the earthquake no matter where they are,” she urged.

The SDC has held a number of official meetings with Arab figures. Ahmed said the SDC underscored to the officials “the need to present an Arab project to resolve the Syrian crisis, for Türkiye to pull out from northwestern Syria and for Iran to cease its flagrant military interference.”

“We also urged the Arab League to draft a roadmap for a political solution and play its role in putting a stop to the war, ending the suffering of the people and resolving pending disputes between the Syrians themselves,” she stated.

Türkiye has meanwhile expressed its willingness to normalize relations with Damascus. Turkish officials have held official meetings with regime figures to that end. “How do you assess the role of the opposition Syrian coalition towards these meetings?” asked Asharq Al-Awsat.

“Unfortunately, the coalition statements have always supported Türkiye, including its stance on normalization,” replied Ahmed. However, she noted the opposition of the people in regions held by the pro-Ankara factions that had staged protests to express their rejection of normalization between the regime and Türkiye.

“This was a message to the forces that control these areas. Our hand is extended to hold dialogue with the parties that staged these protests,” she added.

On the United States’ easing of sanctions on the regime to facilitate aid delivery after the earthquake, Ahmed revealed that the SDC had contacted American envoys present in northeastern Syria. They were assured that these waivers had humanitarian aims and did not violate the Ceasar Act.

Turning to Russia’s role in mediating between the Kurds and Damascus, Ahmed said these efforts have not yielded results as everyone knows that the Russians support the regime.

Moscow, she explained, supports a political solution that “tightens the grip of the regime on all of Syrian territories.”

“We did not sense any neutral position from the Russians towards the conflict during our meetings with them.” They are more aligned to the regime, which contradicts with their role of mediator, she stated. “This was the main reason why we could not reach the desired result with them.”

Asked if the regime has changed any of its behavior in wake of these efforts, Ahmed responded: “The ruling regime has not changed its stance, not on the humanitarian or political levels.”

“It has not shown any flexibility towards the Syrians who are at odds with it. It rejected channels of communication to address the aftermath of the earthquake and ensuing humanitarian catastrophe,” she noted.

“All Syrians, the regime and opposition alike, must handle this catastrophe from the humanitarian angle alone. They must set aside political disputes,” she demanded.

“Any Syrian, who sincerely has their country’s interests at heart, can set aside political disputes and move towards the comprehensive solution,” she said. “The regime’s exploitation of this humanitarian disaster to strengthen its position at the expense of the pain of the Syrian people is a catastrophe in itself.”

Asked if the earthquake may lead to change in Syria, Ahmed noted that several examples throughout history have shown that natural disasters lead to shifts in ruling regimes, the formation of national governments and a change in policies.

“This has not happened in Syria. I see no positive indications that the situation will change in this divided country, given the ongoing disputes between the warring parties and regional and international agendas that have imposed themselves on the country,” lamented Ahmed.

“They are the main obstacle in unifying the Syrian vision,” she stated. “Moreover, the rejection of aid provided by the Kurdish autonomous administration and its political council is the greatest evidence that the situation in this country will not change.”

She accused the regime of politicizing the earthquake disaster and “imposing itself on the international community as the point through which humanitarian aid can be delivered.” The regime has effectively “monopolized” how the aid is delivered. These are all signs of its weakness.

She revealed that the United Nations has sent aid to regime-held regions, but they ended up stuck in Damascus for days. Furthermore, the regime took a week to declare that the cities of Jabla and Aleppo were disaster zones, when the people there were pleading for aid.

The international community dealt with the regime as if it were the only legitimate authority and side responsible for the Syrians. This was the greatest error committed by the international community and UN agencies during the quake disaster, said Ahmed.

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