QAMISHLI, Syria (Reuters) – British Labour officials visited the Kurdish-led authority in northern Syria on Tuesday, pledging to stand with it in the face of threats of attacks.
“We’re here for a long-term relationship with you, where we can support you against all the people who are trying to destroy your liberty,” said Maurice Glasman, a Labour peer in the House of Lords. “We also bring, with a full heart, our solidarity,” he said in Qamishli city, in a stretch of the country which Syrian Kurdish forces mostly control.
Last month, Turkish forces seized Syria’s Afrin region, driving out the Kurdish YPG militia which Ankara deems a menace along its border.
Turkey has threatened to march further east. It sees the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has waged a decades-long insurgency on Turkish soil.
Since the start of Syria’s multi-sided conflict, the YPG and its allies have carved out autonomous cantons in the north, setting up a federal system of government. Their power grew after taking vast territory from Islamic State with U.S. help – though Washington opposes their political plans, as does the Syrian government.
Syrian Kurdish leaders say they seek autonomy as part of a decentralized Syria, rather than secession.
Abed al-Karim Omar, a top member of the self-administration in the north, said the British group that arrived on Tuesday marked the first such public, high-level delegation.
“There were meetings previously not declared,” he said. “But this is the first visit in this official way.” The MPs would discuss Afrin and the tens of thousands residents displaced there, Omar added.
Glasman said they would tour parts of northern Syria, meeting fighters of the YPG and its all-female YPJ affiliate, as well as local civil councils.
Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle said they would “share that back in England with our parliament and with our people,” and that he hoped for better scrutiny of arms sales to Turkey.
“We want to say we are with you side by side,” he said.
Reporting by Rodi Said in northern Syria; Editing by Tom Brown