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US and Turkey to establish 'safe zone' in northeastern Syria

Turkish forces on patrol in northern Syria [Getty]

Date of publication: 7 August, 2019

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The US and Turkey have agreed to jointly establish a 'safe zone' in northeastern Syria, following Turkish threats to attack the Kurdish YPG militia who are present in the area.

The US and Turkey have agreed to establish a new "safe zone" in north-eastern Syria, the US embassy in Turkey said in a statement on Wednesday, averting a new diplomatic crisis.

Following three days of meetings, US and Turkish military delegations agreed to set up a joint operations centre in Turkey to "coordinate and manage the establishment of the safe zone together".

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened on Sunday to launch an operation in northern Syria, east of the Euphrates, to remove the Kurdish YPG militia who control the area.

The YPG have been backed by the US in their fight against Islamic State group militants but are seen as a "terrorist organisation" by Turkey.

Turkey accuses the YPG of being an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been engaged in an armed insurgency against the Turkish state since 1978.

Turkey has in the past year reported that its soldiers have come under fire from the YPG in northern Syria.

In 2018, Turkey launched "Operation Olive Branch" to capture the Kurdish-majority Afrin area of northwestern Syria from the YPG. The area is now controlled by Turkish-backed Syrian rebels.

In response to Erdogan's statement, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said that the US would "prevent any unacceptable offensive" by Turkey against the YPG.

This latest agreement, however, seems to have brought the US and Turkey closer together.

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar told Turkey's state-run Anadolu News Agency: "We witnessed with satisfaction that our partners grew closer to our position. We would prefer to act together with our American ally. If that isn't possible we have said multiple times that we will do what is necessary."

The US embassy statement also said that a "peace corridor" would be established in northern Syria allowing refugees to return.

Turkey currently hosts 3.6 million refugees from the Syrian conflict. They currently face increasing harassment and persecution in the country, with Ankara rounding up refugees and forcibly returning them to Syria’s war-ravaged Idlib province.

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