Syrian church leader fears US troop withdrawal will trigger ‘new war’

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raqqa syria
ReutersSmoke rises near a stadium in Raqqa, Syria October 12, 2017.
Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria has given rise to fears of a new war with Turkey.
Msgr Jacques Behnan Hindo, who leads the Syro-Catholic archeparchy of Hassakè-Nisibi, told AsiaNews that there was ‘enormous tension’ following the US president’s sudden announcement last month.

He fears that Turkey will attack the north-east of Syria, an area currently controlled by Kurds who were backed by Washington.

‘We are afraid that there will be a new war and further attacks; the situation is extremely volatile,’ he said.

In a war of words on Twitter, Trump threatened to ‘economically destroy’ Turkey if it invades Syria.

‘Starting the long overdue pullout from Syria while hitting the little remaining ISIS territorial caliphate hard, and from many directions. Will attack again from existing nearby base if it reforms. Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds. Create 20 mile safe zone….,’ he wrote.

In another tweet he said, ‘Likewise, do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey. Russia, Iran and Syria have been the biggest beneficiaries of the long term U.S. policy of destroying ISIS in Syria – natural enemies. We also benefit but it is now time to bring our troops back home. Stop the ENDLESS WARS!’

On Tuesday, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded by agreeing to Trump’s request for a ‘safe zone’ along the border with Syria.

With the western region of Syria being largely controlled by government forces, Msgr Hindo said he wanted to see the two sides reconcile under the umbrella of Damascas.

He said that Kurds had started negotiations with the Syrian government and that he had recently asked Kurdish leaders to work towards national reconciliation.

‘I spoke with their leaders and I explained to them that they can not act as occupiers,’ he said, adding that the ‘military grip’ must be loosened.

‘I told them that we Christians want peace, development, freedom and that they can not accuse the Syrian government of despotism, because they too behave in the same way,’ he said.