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Safe Zones in Syria Could Help Fight Against ISIS

Trump team reportedly considering Kurdish Proposal

Kurdish officials say they have given a draft of a proposal to establish a safe zone in northern Syria under their control that could help the US in its fight against Islamic State. As the US-backed coalition advances on the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa in northern Syria, with help from Kurdish fighters, the Kurds say that they can provide safety and stability in northern Syria.

“The only stable region in Iraq is the Kurdish region and that can be duplicated in Syria,” Sherkoh Abbas, the US-based President of the Kurdish National Assemby in Syra (KNAS), an umbrella group, told The Media Line. “We were asked by the Trump Administration to deliver a policy paper on this and we have held several discussions on this.”

The idea is that the US would help create an autonomous Kurdish area in Syria, similar to one that already exists in Iraq. The Kurdish zone would provide stability and make sure that Islamic State will not be able to take over the area.

“If they (the Americans) want to get rid of ISIS they have to go through the Kurds,” Abbas said. “It would be called the Kurdish region of Syria and would be administered by the Kurds.”

He said it would be run by the PYG, the Kurdish militia which Turkey sees as a terrorist group, along with his organization, which represents the more than 30 million Kurds worldwide. In the Middle East, there are significant Kurdish minorities in Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria.

Turkey has fought hard against any autonomous Kurdish zone in Syria. The commander of the US-led coalition against ISIS said this week that he does not believe it is likely.

“It’s not my mission to create a Kurdish federal state, and we’re not liberating Raqqa for any one party,” Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend told reporters this week.

He spoke after Salih Muslim, the leader of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party leader (PYD) said that Raqqa could join a decentralized government system that Syrian Kurdish groups are proposing.

“The Kurds are only about 10 percent of the population of northern Syria,” Townsend said. “So I don’t really see how there’s actualy going to be anything called a Kurdish federal state in northern Syria. What I think is that the people of northern Syria, all of them, Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, others alike are determining what their future will be.”

Meanwhile, Syrian opposition groups are calling for a similar safe zone in southern Syria near the border with Israel. Issam Zeitoun, a Syrian opposition leader who visited Israel two months ago, said Israel should cooperate with opposition groups to keep Islamic State away from Israel’s northern border.

“I am trying to convene everyone in Syria, especially in the southern region, that we should reject all ideological pacts,” Zeitoun told The Media Line. “Our future relations must be based only on common values and interests, mainly economy and security.”

Israel has treated more than 2000 Syrians, many of them members of rebel groups, in Israeli hospitals. Zeitoun said that Israel must do more to capture the hearts and minds of Syrians who are opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In the past six years of fighting, at least 400,000 have been killed, according to UN figures, and millions have been forced to leave Syria.