A Kurdish-led faction that has played a key role in
fighting Islamic State in Syria has welcomed a call by US President
Donald Trump for Europe to take in hundreds of Islamic State fighters
captured in the war-torn country.
Hundreds of fighters from dozens of countries are in the custody of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a militia allied with a US-led military coalition now fighting to dislodge Islamic State from its last bastion in eastern Syria.
"We consider the US president's remark positive," Abdel-Karim Omar, an SDF foreign relations official, told dpa on Sunday. "As we faced terrorism and Daesh [Islamic State] in coordination with the international alliance, the issue of foreign jihadists, their children and women should also be handled in coordination with the international community. It is a burden which we cannot undertake on our own," he added.
On Saturday, Trump threatened that the US would be forced to release foreign jihadists captured in Syria if their home countries did not take them. "The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial," he wrote in a flurry of tweets.
"The US does not want to watch as these ISIS [Islamic State] fighters permeate Europe, which is where they are expected to go," he said. The German government responded to the comments on Sunday by saying that, while it was aware of German citizens in captivity in northern Syria, it was unable to take responsibility for them due to the shuttering of the German embassy in Damascus.
The Foreign Ministry said it was, however, examining possible options to enable German citizens to leave Syria, especially in cases with humanitarian grounds. Danish politicians also reacted coolly to Trump's call to action. "These are some of the most dangerous people on earth, and we should not have them back," said Michael Aastrup Jensen, foreign affairs spokesman for Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen's centre-right Liberals.
"The fact that we are in this jam is Trump's fault since he chose to pull the US forces out of Syria before stability was created," he added, according to news agency Ritzau. The SDF foreign relations official did not give specific figures about the number of Islamic State foreign fighters in SDF hands, but said their numbers were "in the hundreds."
A spokeswoman for the German Interior Ministry said that since 2013 around 1,050 people had travelled from Germany to join terrorist groups Syria and Iraq. Around a third of these people had already returned to Germany, she said. About 270 women and children from Germany or children of German parents born there are still in region, and 75 per cent of the children are under the age of three, according to the spokeswoman.
French Defence Minister Florence Parly warned against abandoning Kurdish forces in Syria, writing in a column for the Le Parisien newspaper that it was Europe's "duty" to help the SDF after the withdrawal of US troops. Trump surprised allies when he announced the withdrawal of 2,000 US troops from Syria in December, saying the mission of defeating Islamic State had been achieved. His decision drew criticism from SDF officials, who warned that the pull-out would lead to Islamic State's resurgence.
Apparently referring to US-allied Syrian Kurdish insurgents, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in Damascus on Sunday: "We tell the groups, which serve as agents to the Americans: The Americans will not protect you, and you will be a tool for bargaining in their hands." He did not name any groups. "Only the Syrian Arab Army can defend you," al-Assad added, according to the state news agency SANA. In recent months, al-Assad's forces, supported by Russia, have regained a lot of territory in different parts of the country from West-backed rebels and Islamist militants.
Al-Assad on Sunday accused unnamed countries of hampering the home return of Syrian refugees, describing their alleged actions as "an attempt by the states, which support terrorism, to condemn the Syrian state." Syria's crisis began in March 2011 with peaceful anti-government demonstrations that were brutally quelled by al-Assad's forces. The conflict soon spiralled into a multi-sided civil war that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced about half of Syria's pre-war population of 22 million.
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