Syria's Kurds will not participate in Sochi talks
Kurdish groups say Turkey has excluded them from Syria peace efforts
Syria's main Kurdish group has said it will not take part in Russian-brokered peace talks starting Monday, because of the Turkish offensive in Afrin.
The Kurdish enclave has been the focus of the past week with Turkey stepping up its campaign with heavy shelling against the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish militia in northern Syria.
"We've said before that if the situation remained the same in Afrin we could not attend the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi," Fawaz Al Yussef, a Syrian Kurdish official said.
“Turkey’s operation in Afrin contradicts the principles of political dialogue," he added.
Ankara’s administration considers the YPG a terrorist offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
Turkish warplanes and artillery took advantage of clear skies on Sunday to target the hilly territory of Barsaya near Afrin, following several days of poor visibility.
That led Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to say his forces “will take over Barsaya very soon”.
Last Monday Turkish troops and their Syrian opposition allies said they had captured the hill, before losing it again a few hours later.
Mr Erdogan also threatened to expand the offensive against the YPG to Manbij, east of Afrin. The Russian-brokered peace talks were postponed in November last year due to differences between the attendees, including the participation of the Kurds - a sticking point for Ankara.
Rebel backer Turkey is one of the main sponsors of the talks in the Black Sea Resort of Sochi, scheduled to take place on Monday and Tuesday along with Syrian regime allies Russia and Iran.
Russia claims the meeting will emphasise "the necessity of a speedy political settlement of the Syrian crisis based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254."
Moscow invited 1,600 people to what it has called a "peace congress" in Sochi, to begin hammering out a constitution for post-war Syria.
Western powers regard the talks with suspicion, worrying that Moscow is seeking to undermine parallel United Nations backed talks, seeking to ultimately carve out a settlement in favour of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.
Syria's Kurdish groups, which control large areas in the north, feel they have been left out of the peace making efforts because of Turkey's clout and its view that their presence in border regions is a national security threat.
It follows the announcement that the Syrian opposition will also not attend the conference, following a ninth round of UN-sponsored peace talks that ended inconclusively in Vienna last Friday.
The war has now left more than 340,000 people dead.
The UN said on Saturday that it’s Syria mediator, Staffan de Mistura, will attend the talks in Sochi.
A leaked Russian document claims the lifting of economic sanctions, the return of refugees as well as plans for reconstruction in Syria will be discussed, Asharq Al Awsat newspaper reported.
Meanwhile, Turkish attacks on Afrin damaged an ancient temple, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Sunday.
Ain Dara, dating to the Iron Age, was exposed to serious shelling but no casualties were reported the human rights agency said.
The Syrian government’s antiquities department urged the international community to exert pressure on Turkey “to prevent the targeting of archaeological and cultural sites”, state media said.
Mr Al Assad’s government has condemned the Turkish attacks, but it also opposes the YPG and Kurdish aspirations for autonomy in northern parts of Syria.
The PKK, which has waged a war against the Turkish state for three decades, is designated as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies.
Updated: January 28, 2018 08:03 PM