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SYRIA

German government divided over call for Syria peacekeeping force

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government was sharply divided Tuesday by defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer's surprise call for international troops to secure northeast Syria.

German government divided over call for Syria peacekeeping force
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer with a solider in the northern Iraqi Kurdish region in August. Photo: D

The initiative had provoked “a certain degree of irritation” among Germany's NATO allies, foreign minister Heiko Maas said.

Maas represents Merkel's junior, centre-left coalition partners the SPD, while Kramp-Karrenbauer is leader of the chancellor's conservative CDU party.

Turkey's military intervention in northeast Syria, as well as Russia's backing for the Damascus regime, mean “there are high hurdles for any internationalization of the solution to the conflict,” Maas said.

For now, the government “has engaged with efforts to resolve the conflict” with “diplomatic and humanitarian” means, he added.

There had been “no discussion” of an international mission to northeast Syria with Germany's allies, Maas said, recalling also the failure of a similar plan for northwestern Syrian region Aleppo in late 2016.

READ ALSO: German army seeks out gamers in hunt for computer-savvy recruits

Kramp-Karrenbauer had told broadcaster Deutsche Welle on Monday that a “security zone” could allow international forces, including European troops, to “resume the fight against terror and against the Islamic State” group (IS) as well as “stabilize the region so that rebuilding civilian life is once again possible”.

The defence chief is keen to involve Bundeswehr (German army) soldiers, although a rare foreign deployment would have to be in line with international law and secure approval from parliament.

Europe and Germany must “come up with our own recommendations and initiate discussions,” rather than being “simply… an onlooker” Kramp-Karrenbauer said.

She added that she had already floated her proposal to the British, American and French defence ministers and would discuss it further at a meeting of the NATO alliance in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

Kramp-Karrenbauer's call for military intervention came as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in Russia for talks with President Vladimir Putin on Syria.

Turkish forces are hours away from the end of a US-brokered ceasefire with Kurdish fighters in the offensive it launched on October 9th into the neighbouring country.

Ankara quickly moved to clear a “security zone” in northeastern Syria of Kurdish forces following President Donald Trump's announcement he would withdraw troops from the region.

The Kurds provided indispensable ground fighters in the US-led international coalition against IS, but their YPG militias are considered “terrorists” by Turkey.

Russia is a crucial ally of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and has demanded that Turkey respect the country's territorial integrity.

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IMMIGRATION

Germany to allow deportations of ‘suspect’ Syrians

Germany said Friday it would allow deportation of Syrians to their war-ravaged homeland from 2021 if they are deemed a security risk, five years after a massive refugee influx.

Germany to allow deportations of 'suspect' Syrians
A flight deporting refugees leaving from Baden airport on Thursday. Photo: DPA

The EU's biggest economic power and most populous member allowed in hundreds of thousands of people fleeing Syria's devastating civil war in 2015-16 but security officials said it was time to lift blanket protections
against expulsion.

“The general ban on deportations (to Syria) will expire at the end of this year,” Hans-Georg Engelke, state secretary at the interior ministry, told reporters.

“Those who commit crimes or pursue terrorist aims to do serious harm to our state and our population should and will have to leave our country.”

The decision, which drew vehement criticism from human rights groups, was taken at a telephone conference between federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, a hardline conservative who had long called for an end to the deportation ban, and his 16 state-level counterparts.

READ ALSO: Germany plans to deport 'dangerous' Syrian criminals

The Social Democrats (SPD), junior partners in Chancellor Angela Merkel's right-left “grand coalition” government, failed in their bid to win a six-month extension of the protections, in place since 2012.

They argued that the still precarious security and humanitarian situation in Syria made expulsions there indefensible.

'First EU country'

Engelke, standing in for Seehofer who was in quarantine after a coronavirus exposure, told a news conference that an estimated 90 Syrian suspected Islamists were believed to be in Germany.

Calls for a change in stance have been growing since a Syrian man was
arrested in November on suspicion of carrying out a deadly knife attack in the city of Dresden.

Prosecutors said the 20-year-old, accused of killing one tourist and seriously injuring another, had a raft of criminal convictions and a history of involvement with the Islamist scene.

He had been living in Germany under “tolerated” status granted to people whose asylum requests have been rejected, but who cannot be deported.

Boris Pistorius of the SPD, interior minister of Lower Saxony, noted that on a practical level expulsions to Syria would remain next to impossible “because there are no state institutions with which we have diplomatic relations”.

But he sharply criticised the symbolic meaning of Germany becoming what he called the first EU country to lift the deportation ban.

Germany took in more than one million migrants including tens of thousands of Syrians at the height of the refugee influx 2015-16 when several EU member states shut their borders to asylum seekers.

'Disgrace'

The German foreign ministry has described conditions in Syria as “catastrophic” and noted that its nationals continue to be “exposed to dangers when they return” to their home country.

Government forces have regained control of large swathes of territory once held by rebels and Islamist groups, but opponents of the Assad government still face torture and death, according to human rights organisations.

However as Germany heads into a general election year to replace Merkel after 16 years in power, conservative politicians seized on the issue amid concerns among some voters about the security risk posed by refugees.

READ ALSO: German interior minister rules out deportations to Syria

“In such a situation, you can't tell the German population on the issue of whether someone poses a danger… that it is taboo to even think about sending them home,” Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann told the news conference.

German campaigners slammed the decision, calling it opportunistic and driven by political interests.

“The behaviour of the conservative interior ministers is a disgrace for the rule of law and irresponsible in its substance,” Guenter Burkhardt of refugee rights group PRO ASYL said in a statement, calling it a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Syria's war, which broke out after the brutal suppression of anti-government protests in 2011, has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions.

Germany has launched several criminal cases over alleged war crimes in Syria under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows a foreign country to prosecute crimes against humanity and war crimes.

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