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Syria army vows to retake control of Kurdish areas

Two major areas beyond regime’s control are Idlib and the country side under SDF power

By AFP - Mar 18,2019 - Last updated at Mar 18,2019

This handout photo released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency on Monday, shows Syrian Defence Minister Ali Abdullah Ayyoub (centre), Iraq's Chief of Staff Othman Al Ghanimi (right) and Iran's Chief of Staff Mohammad Hossein Bagheri attending a press conference in the Syrian capital Damascus (AFP photo)

DAMASCUS — Syrian government forces will reclaim control of northeastern areas controlled by the US-backed Kurds, whether by force or through reconciliation, the defence minister warned on Monday.

Marginalised for decades, Syria's minority Kurds have carved out a de-facto autonomous region across some 30 per cent of the nation's territory since the devastating war broke out in 2011.

Backed by a US-led coalition, Kurdish forces have spearheaded an offensive in Syria against the Daesh group.

Washington's shock December announcement that it would withdraw its troops from Syria has sent the Kurds scrambling to rebuild ties with the Damascus regime, but talks so far have failed to reach a compromise.

Syrian Defence Minister Ali Abdullah Ayoub said the Syrian government will recapture territory controlled by Kurdish-led forces in the same way it "liberated" other parts of Syria.

"The only card that remains in the hands of the Americans and their allies is" the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), he said, referring to the force leading the battle to wipe out the last remnant of the Daesh group's "caliphate".

"The Syrian government will deal with this issue in one of two ways: a reconciliation agreement or liberating the territory they control by force," he said at a joint press conference with the military chiefs of staff of Iran and Iraq.

His comments come as the SDF, backed by the US-led coalition, battle jihadists in their last patch of territory in the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border.

Eight years into a war that has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions, Syrian government forces control almost two-thirds of the country.

Just two areas remain beyond their control: the extremist-held north-western region of Idlib, and the third of the country under the control of the SDF.

Ayoub on Monday said Idlib will also be recaptured by government forces.

"The Syrian government will reassert its complete control over all Syrian territory sooner or later," he said.

"Idlib is no exception."

The Idlib region borders Turkey and is dominated by an alliance led by Syria's former Al Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir Al Sham. 

Idlib has been protected from a massive offensive by President Bashar Assad's regime since September, thanks to a buffer zone deal agreed by Damascus's ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey.

But it has been hit by sporadic government shelling.

The defence minister's comments come after a rare meeting with the military chiefs of staff of Iraq and Iran in Damascus.

Ayoub stressed the importance of cooperation and coordination between the three militaries to combat mutual threats.

He said what emerged from talks "will help us to continue to confront challenges, dangers and threats" posed by terrorism.

Daesh seized large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq in 2014, but has since lost most of that to various offensives, including by the Russia-backed regime.

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