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Buses return to war-town country

Reuters
Saturday, May 20, 2017

QAMISHLI, Syria - A new bus service linking Syria's Kurdish-controlled north-east with the government-held west, unthinkable before Islamic State was driven from the area, was raising hopes of renewed commerce between two long-estranged parts of a fractured country.

Kurdish-led authorities hope the new corridor will end the economic isolation of their region, bordered as it was by hostile parties. For Damascus, the corridor holds out the prospect of sourcing fuel and food from the resource-rich northeast.

The service from Kurdish-controlled Qamishli to Aleppo City goes through territory captured from Islamic State by Russian-backed Syrian government forces in February. Until then, only an intrepid few would make a journey that entailed crossing through areas held by IS and competing rebel groups.

"Before, there were no passengers, very, very few, because of the security conditions," said Ahmad Abou Abboud, the head of Qamishli office of the bus company that started the service in late April.

Demand has risen steadily since the first buses — sleek, white, air-conditioned coaches with purple curtains — went into operation. Weekly trips have increased from two to three, Mr Abboud told Reuters in Qamishli.

A Kurdish official said so far the road was being used only for travel, not trade.

The new bus service was the result of one of the most important shifts in the map of the Syrian conflict in recent times, with the areas controlled by government forces and Kurdish-allied militias being linked up near the city of Manbij.

It pointed to the highly nuanced state of relations between the Damascus government of President Bashar al-Assad and the Kurdish authorities that have established control over wide areas of the north since war began in 2011.

Despite historic enmity, Syria's Kurds and government have seldom clashed. They have also found themselves fighting the same adversaries in the civil war in areas where their military interests have converged, including Turkey-backed rebel groups.

Its critics said the main Kurdish militia, the YPG, has co-operated with government forces.








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