Syria: fighting in Afrin, airstrikes in East Ghouta

As a direct conflict between Turkey and the Assad regime looms in the Kurdish province of Afrin in northern Syria, 400,000 people are trapped in the rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus. The Syrian army has been bombing the area for days. Now the UN Security Council plans to convene to discuss the situation. Journalists describe the plight of the population, at the mercy of the warring parties.

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Radio Kommersant FM (RU) /

Win-win situation for Erdoğan, Putin and Assad

The advance of pro-Assad troops in Afrin could have been planned from the outset, Radio Kommersant FM believes:

“The scenario goes like this: Erdoğan, the bad guy, instils fear in the hearts of the Kurds. Then the good guys rush in to help their suffering brothers. These are Assad's forces, guided by Moscow. ... Of course Ankara puts up a struggle - but finally agrees. The upshot: the area controlled by Damascus is extended, and Erdoğan receives guarantees that the Kurds won't attack him or proclaim the foundation of their own state of Kurdistan. Because now Assad has taken charge - with the Kremlin as guarantor. But it can't be ruled out that Putin and Erdoğan agreed to all this right from the start.”

Aftonbladet (SE) /

The new Srebrenica

Aftonbladet focuses on the rebel-held area of Eastern Ghouta:

“Ghouta is the new Srebrenica, columnist Simon Tisdall writes in the Guardian. The US isn't lifting a finger, the UN is helpless, and the Security Council is powerless after the Russian veto. The lack of action on the part of the West has given the regime a new dynamic in its efforts to regain control over the war-ravaged country, particularly since the fall of the IS. From America's perspective Iran's influence in the region is being curtailed. From Russia's perspective Moscow is retaining its position of power in the Middle East. In northern Syria Turkey is fighting against the Kurdish YPG militia, which in turn seeks the protection and support of the government in Damascus. The collapse continues and the civilians are counting their dead.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

Russia supporting the most blood-thirsty dictator

Rzeczpospolita comments on the battle for Eastern Ghouta and criticises the media for mainly covering the atrocities committed by Assad's forces:

“Even the worst jihadists can't be fought by the bombing of hospitals and other civilian targets. Nevertheless that's exactly what the Syrian government army and Russian Air Force are doing. Western politicians have an easy time denouncing Assad's forces but they say nothing about the Russians. ... In fact one can't even say the role of the Russians in the civilian massacres is being forgotten: it's simply being hushed up. As a result Russia has been able to improve its image both in the Middle East and in the West even though it's supporting the most bloodthirsty dictator of our times.”

La Tribune de Genève (CH) /

IS defeated but other wars go on

The West was too focused on fighting the IS in the Syria conflict, La Tribune de Genève criticises:

“For too long Switzerland, Europe, and the West in general had only one priority in Syria: fighting the terrorists of the Islamic State. While combatting this obscurantism was necessary it didn't divest us of our obligation to look beyond that goal. What will become of the Kurds when they're no longer needed to fight the IS? What will become of the other areas that have until now evaded Damascus's control? Today the IS, the West's number one enemy, is in retreat. It leaves behind it all the other wars that were smouldering beneath the ashes. And before our eyes they are once again reigniting.”

Deutschlandfunk (DE) /

At the end of the day Assad is the winner

Assad's support for the Kurds is nothing more than the latest gambit in a cruel geopolitical game, Deutschlandfunk comments:

“Because he hasn't swerved one millimetre from his true goal of reconquering every inch of Syria's territory. That's also why for a long time he paid no heed to the cries for help of the Kurds in Afrin. The Turkish offensive actually came in useful for him because he has no interest in the Kurds growing too powerful on Syrian territory. ... With his purported help for the Kurds Assad is seeking to re-extend his zone of influence as far as the Turkish border - and to pass himself off as a supposed saviour in their hour of need. ... In the end Assad will come out the winner. Despite all its crimes against humanity his regime will survive this war.”

Karar (TR) /

Putin wants to stop Ankara

Sending pro-Assad troops into Afrin is a move by Putin, Karar suspects:

“It looks like Russia isn't very happy about the signs of a thaw in [Turkey's] relations with the US and Europe after the talks last week. Putin, who seeing this suddenly went back to being his old self, put Afrin on the table and played the regime card. Clearly this is not a military advance that the Assad regime, weakened on almost all fronts, could make on its own. So you don't have to be clairvoyant to realise that Russia and Iran are behind the [Assad] regime's interest in Afrin.”

The Independent (GB) /

No longer proxy wars

The proxy wars in Syria now threaten to turn into direct confrontations, The Independent warns:

“Syria has become a set of interlocking proxy wars between the superpowers, America and Russia, and between the shifting alliances of the regional powers Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia. ... The danger is that the so-far proxy nature of the war starts to slide into direct confrontation. We have already seen US-supplied anti-aircraft artillery bring down a Russian-made jet, and now we find Turkish national forces in contact with Iranian-backed Syrian militia. The obvious risk comes when the confrontations become more direct.”

Avvenire (IT) /

Syria talks including all players needed

Avvenire sketches out the concessions that will have to be made on all sides to bring the current escalation under control:

“It takes courage to sit down once again at a negotiating table at which all players are represented, with no prior conditions and excluding no one. For the West that means looking reality in the face: Iran and Russia must be part of the solution to the Syrian problem, they can't be excluded as a favour to one Middle East state or another. Iran, for its part, must stop unconditionally protecting a cruel dictator like Assad. ... Turkey can't deny that the Kurds have the right to have a say in Syria's future after the victory against the IS, while the Kurds themselves must overcome their internal divisions and curb their territorial ambitions.”