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A man casts his ballot inside a polling station in Qamishli, Syria September 22, 2017. REUTERS/Rodi Said(reuters_tickers)
BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Syrian government is open to negotiations with Kurds over their demand for autonomy within Syria's borders, the foreign minister has said, striking a conciliatory tone as military tensions worsen between the sides in eastern Syria.
Walid al-Moualem said the government could discuss the Kurdish demand once Islamic State is defeated, state news agency SANA reported, citing an interview with Russia Today.
"This topic is open to negotiation and discussion and when we are done eliminating Daesh (Islamic State), we can sit with our Kurdish sons and reach an understanding on a formula for the future," Moualem said.
The Syrian Kurdish YPG militia controls a swathe of northern Syria where the main Kurdish party, the PYD, and its allies have established autonomy since the start of the Syrian war in 2011.
Syrian Kurds say their aim is to preserve that autonomy as part of a decentralised Syria, and they do not aim to follow the path of Kurds in Iraq who held an independence referendum on Monday.
Moualem reiterated his government's rejection of that referendum, saying Damascus supported Iraqi unity, but he noted that Syria's Kurds "want a form of autonomy within the borders of the Syrian Arab Republic".
Kurdish-led authorities in northern Syria held elections last week to choose local community leaders, the first stage of a three-phase process that will culminate in January with the election of a parliament.
The YPG has been a major partner for the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State in eastern and northern Syria, fighting as part of the Syrian Democratic Forces alliance (SDF).
While the YPG and Damascus have mostly avoided confrontation, tensions have flared as the U.S.-backed SDF and the Russian-backed Syrian army wage separate campaigns against Islamic State in Deir al-Zor province.
The SDF accused the Syrian government and its Russian ally of striking its fighters on Monday, something Moscow denied.
Earlier this year, Moualem characterised the Syrian Kurdish battle against Islamic State as legitimate and suggested an accommodation could be reached with the Syrian Kurds. President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to take back the whole of Syria.
(Reporting by Sarah Dadouch; Editing by Tom Perry and Robin Pomeroy)