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MIDDLE EAST

Turkey Presses for Acceleration of a Planned Safe Zone in Northern Syria

President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Photo: Kremlin.ru)

Turkey is insisting on plowing ahead with a planned safe zone in northeastern Syria, despite accusing the U.S. of dragging its heels.

On Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted on going ahead and rapidly erecting without delay a planned safe zone agreed to with Washington recently.

“Our country had previously experienced a delay in the Manbij area, and it will not now tolerate a delay in the safe zone. The process should advance,” Erdogan told CNN Turk.

The Turkish president was referring to the potential for a delay caused by U.S. plans to remove the Kurdish YPG separatists from the northern Syrian city of Manbij. Turkey accused Washington of delaying the removal process.

Turkey’s capital Ankara has been at odds with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, known as the YPG, over the group’s long-time attempt to separate from the Turkish territories and establish a homeland of their own inside Turkey. Whereas the U.S. works with the Kurdish YPG militia to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) also known as ISIS.

On his way back from Moscow, where he met with his counterpart Vladimir Putin, Erdogan told reporters that the Ankara-Washington safe zone deal was a step in the right direction and that it would lead to the removal of the YPG from the eastern parts of the Euphrates river.

Last year, U.S. President Donald Trump proposed erecting a safe zone after he already declared his country’s intention to withdraw U.S. special forces from northern Syria. Later, he suspended the plan, insisting that Washington’s Kurdish allies be protected.

Earlier this week, Erdogan announced that his country’s armed forces, including personnel and armored vehicles would enter the safe zone soon to ensure that all the Kurdish elements are removed completely from the region.

YPG Reacts

In reaction to the Turkish authorities’ intentions, an official at the YPG-led alliance was reported as saying that YPG troops would start pulling out from a strip along the Syrian borders with Turkey under a U.S.-Turkish deal.

According to the Kurdish-led authority in the north and east of Syria, the YPG had withdrawn already from the Tal Albyad and Ras-Alin border positions, proving they were serious about talks for pull out.

Though Turkey and the U.S. had agreed to the safe zone, neither side had specified the location and size of the planned zone.

Earlier this month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened that an imminent attack would take place in northern Syria to crack down on the U.S.-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units that reside along with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in northern Syria.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has in the past said any unilateral move by the Turks is unacceptable, but he believes the current agreement with Turkey, Syria and the United States will deter this action. Esper said the U.S. will not abandon the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and would protect them in case of a Turkish military attack against Syria.

Turkey views the Kurdish units as members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has waged an armed opposition against the Turkish regime for decades.

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Rami Almeghari

Rami Almeghari is a freelance independent writer, journalist and lecturer, based in the Gaza Strip. Rami has contributed in English to several media outlets worldwide, including print, radio and TV. He can be reached on facebook as Rami Munir Almeghari and on email as [email protected]

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