Syria summit: What Germany wants, and how it might help

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Syria summit: What Germany wants, and how it might help

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In Depth

Syria summit: What Germany wants, and how it might help

Turkish, Russian, French and German leaders are gathering in Istanbul to discuss the future of Syria at the weekend. Germany has clear objectives â€" and perhaps more to offer than you might think.

Anti-government protest in Syria (Getty Images/AFP/A. Watad)

Prote st against the Syrian government in the town of Hazzanu, about 20 kilometers northwest of the city of Idlib

Ahmad Taher Mustafa was lucky. Only one day after he'd been abducted in mid-October by a criminal gang in the vicinity of Afrin, a civilian brigade managed to free him. Having suffered no bodily harm, the 9-year-old could return to his family.

Although the boy escaped the kidnapping unscathed, his case highlights the precarious security situation in northern Syria. According to the news website Al-Monitor, which deals with political affairs in the Middle East, the fact that former members of the rebel group Free Syrian Army (FSA) were among the kidnappers was particularly unsettling. Al-Monitor cited an unnamed source to bear out its claim.

It's significant that some FSA members, who were key figures in the uprising against the Assad government during the first couple of years, acting in the name of freedom, transformed into a criminal gang. T his shows the extent to which the war, lasting for almost eight years now, has afflicted their motives and ethical attitudes. The fighting has changed the disposition of at least some FSA troops, irrespective of the fact that other FSA members were responsible for liberating the abducted schoolboy.

Security and stability at stake

However, the security situation leaves a lot to be desired in Syria as a whole, not just in the north. The situation is particularly awkward in the region of Idlib, which is under the control of jihadi groups. The Syrian government, with support from Russia and Iran, is pondering an offensive against rebels in the region. So far, though, Assad and his allies have stopped short of a military operation that could cause many civilian casualties.

Syrien Afrin Arabis   che Milizen Plünderungen (Getty Images/AFP/B. Kilic)

Syrian Arab fighters loot shops after seizing control of the northwestern Syrian city of Afrin

The situation around Idlib is likely to be a key aspect of the international Syria summit this Saturday. Participants include Turkey, Russia, France and Germany. It is expected that discussions will also focus on a new constitution for Syria, or the formation of a constituent assembly to compose one.

Watch video 03:49 Now live 03:49 mins.

Turkish Red Crescent aids desperate refugees in Idlib

Germans committed to ceasefire

During the meeting, Germany is likely to focus on the refugee issue, Kristian Brakel, Istanbul director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, told DW: "Together with Turkey, Germany wants to make sure that Syrians stop setting out for neighboring Turkey. At this point, Turkey already accommodates more than 3 million Syrian refugees. For this reason, Turkey and, indirectly, also Germany were already rather concerned about a military offensive targeting Idlib."

Idlib is close to Syria's border with Turkey.

Both Turkey and Germany are under pressure because of the refugee issue. In Turkey's east, riots break out time and again because of the refugees, Brakel told DW. In Germany, the refugee issue not only played a considerable role in September 2017's general elections, but continues to be an influential factor in regional elections too, even if several political parties prefer to skirt around the issue. "Both sides â€" Germany as well as Turkey â€" are interested in keeping the situation at least stable enough that further mass exoduses of people fleeing Syria do not become likely," Brakel said.

Syrien Zerstörung in der Provinz Idlib (picture-alliance/dpa/DHA/U. Can)

Destroyed buildings in Ariha, Idlib province, September 2018

The role of a new constitution

Indirectly linked to the debate on Idlib is the issue of a new constitution. Agreeing to one would send an important message, both domestically and abroad. The shape of any new constitution is liable to have significant influence on many Syrian refugees deciding whether they wish to return home at some point or stay where they are, if possible. By the same token, it is likely to have a bearing on how quickly the country can be pacified and stabilized when the fighting is over.

In September, seven Western and Arabic nations, including Germany, called on the United Nations to pave the way for a draft constitution as quickly as possible. The declaration called for the establishment of a committee with representatives from all sides in the conflict. The stated aim was to lay the foundation for free and fair elections under UN supervision in which all Syrians who are eligible to vote â€" including those who had fled the country â€" were allowed to participate. Thus far, the Syrian government has rejected calls for an international drafting of the constitution. Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem was quoted by state media describing the issue as an entirely "sovereign" Syrian matter.

Russia seeks an exit; Germany as a broker?

Syria's key ally Russia also advocates a new constitution drafted by the Syrians themselves. But Russian Middle East expert Taimour Dwidar believes that Moscow might be willing to compromise.

"The Kremlin wants to put an end to its military operations in Syria. They are a massive burden on Russia's economy; in addition, the war obstructs improved relations with the United States and Israel," Dwidar told DW.

Syrien Präsident Assad - Rede vor Diplomaten in Damaskus (picture-alliance/AP Photo/Syrian Presidency)

Syrian President Bashar Assad has to rely on his allies

And, according to Kristian Brakel, financial considerations might also dissuade Russia from a totally unbending line on the issue of a new constitution: "The Russians are facing the rebuilding of Syria. Of course they want other countries to make contributions. It's a question of investing billions of dollars over a period of approximately 15 to 20 years. Neither the Russians nor Iran can come up with that kind of money, and the Gulf states, up to this point, are not prepared to make substantial contributions."

Assad winning, but still weakened

Therefore, Russia is relying on Germany â€" both to contribute financially and to perhaps persuade Western allies to follow suit. "The Russian s are certainly interested in having Germany on board," Kristian Brakel said.

It was already evident during the war that the Syrian government could only hold its ground with the help of its allies. It appears that now, at the talks about an impending ceasefire in Syria, it is not in control of the proceedings either. The conflict hasn't just eroded the military independence of President Bashar Assad's regime, it has cost it political autonomy as well.

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Audios and videos on the topic

Turkish Red Crescent aids desperate refugees in Idlib

  • Date 26.10.2018
  • Author Kersten Knipp
  • Related Subjects Syria, Germany, Russia, France, Istanbul, Turkey, Palace of Versailles, Corsica , Beaujolais, French presidential election 2017
  • Keywords Syria, Istanbul, Idlib, Russia, Turkey, France, constitution, refugees, Germany
  • Feedback: Send us your feedback.
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink https://p.dw.com/p/37G2y

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Syrien Abzug der schweren Waffen aus Idlib

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The demilitarized buffer zone in the Syrian city of Idlib may be established on Monday â€" if Damascus and the rebels stick to the agreement. DW explains the key points.

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Syria rebels withdraw heavy weapons from Idlib frontline 08.10.2018

Russia and Turkey's deal to demilitarize the battle lines around Idlib has been moved on a step. A buffer zone is intended to separate Syrian troops from rebel fighters, and prevent a full-scale assault on the city.

Syrien - nach dem Giftgasangriff auf Duma

Merkel backs four-way summit on 'fragile' Idlib next month 28.09.2018

Syria's last major rebel stronghold of Idlib will be the focus of a summit in October, Chancellor Angela Merkel has said. Germany is take part in the summit alongside Russia, Turkey and France.

  • Date 26.10.2018
  • Author Kersten Knipp
  • Related Subjects Syria, Germany, Russia, France, Istanbul, Turkey, Palace of Versailles, Corsica , Beaujolais, French presidential election 2017
  • Keywords Syria, Istanbul, Idlib, Russia, Turkey, France, constitution, refugees, Germany
  • Send us your feedback.
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink https://p.dw.com/p/37G2y
AdvertisementSource: Google News Germany | Netizen 24 Germany

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