Middle East

Surprise and triumph in Mideast media over US withdrawal

Arabic media
Image caption The story is dominating headlines across the Middle East

Media outlets across the Middle East are still grappling with the unexpectedness of the US decision to withdraw its troops from Syria but the decision is broadly welcomed.

In what is likely to be an extra dig at America, a number quote US Senator Lindsey Graham's criticism of the move, using his words to highlight the point that it strengthens Russia and Iran in the region.

'Catastrophic withdrawal' for US

Broadcast outlets in Iran reported mostly neutrally on the story but conservative newspapers celebrated the move as a defeat for the US government.

Hemayat called it a "catastrophic withdrawal" while Khorasan quoted Mr Graham saying "an American withdrawal at this time would be a big win for Iran and [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad".

The hardline daily Javan, which is close to the influential Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, said the US now had no choice but to "respect" an agreement reached earlier this week by Russia, Turkey, and Iran on Syria's political future.

See also: Syria war: Russia, Iran and Turkey fail to agree on new constitution body

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (l), pictured with his Russian and Turkish counterparts, has called for Western countries to facilitate the resolution of the crisis in Syria.

Erdogan presented as key player

In Turkey, the story is top of the news agenda, with many outlets emphasising that the decision was taken during a phone conversation between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his US counterpart Donald Trump.

Image caption The story made the front pages of most major Turkish newspapers

This is significant in light of Turkey's plan to invade northern Syria to combat the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which have been fighting the Islamic State group alongside US forces there.

Turkey sees the YPG as an extension of its outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and refers to YPG fighters as "terrorists".

Pro-government media portrayed the move as an outcome of Erdogan's influence in the region.

One such newspaper, Aksam, said Turkey's "determined stance" on its concerns east of the Euphrates - the Syrian region it intends to invade - "made the US step back".

Others, such as Gunes and Turkiye, noted the YPG was "in shock" over the decision.

US soldiers still here, Kurdish TV says

Kurdish media outlets in Syria certainly appeared surprised by the decision.

Amid international media reports saying US forces had already begun to leave, Rudaw TV insisted that US soldiers were still stationed in areas under the control of the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) - the alliance of Arab, Syrian and Kurdish militias led by the YPG.

Another channel, Ronahi TV, interviewed a Kurdish official in north-eastern Syria who said: "Nobody is aware of the details of the [White House] decision... including US commanders here."

The official also warned that the withdrawal would "impact the equation in Syria and the entire region".

Repeating Russia's welcome

The announcement dominated Syrian media. The official Syrian news agency Sana reported at length on the news, highlighting Russia's welcome for the move and quoting Moscow saying: "Washington was starting to realise that its opposition to Astana efforts was hurting its interest."

Other outlets noted that the decision likely took into account Turkey's imminent invasion.

Image caption The Syrian government Baath news site (l) and opposition Enab Baladi (r) emphasised different aspects of the story

'Victory for Turkey, Iran, Russia and Assad'

The withdrawal also dominated pan-Arab media with many commentators describing the decision as "startling" or "shocking".

The London-based Al-Arab daily called it "a victory for Turkey, Iran, Russia and Assad".

And an editorial in Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper noted: "Significant external parties like Russia, Turkey and Iran will try to fill the gap that results from the US withdrawal."

On major pan-Arab TV channels, the Saudi-funded Al-Arabiya and Qatari Al-Jazeera TV both highlighted statements by Mr Graham.

Al-Jazeera also focused on Moscow's welcome for the decision as a step towards "genuine, real prospects for a political settlement".

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

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