Damascus decries US-Turkish deal on 'safe zone' in Syria

AP , Thursday 8 Aug 2019

File Photo: Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem (Photo: AFP)

Damascus on Thursday accused Turkey of "expansionist ambitions,'' saying Ankara's agreement with Washington to set up a so-called safe zone in northeastern Syria only helps such plans and is a violation of Syria's sovereignty.

The statement by Syria's Foreign Ministry comes a day after the U.S. and Turkey announced they'd agreed to form a coordination center to set up the safe zone. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the move, which is designed to address Ankara's security concerns, was important.

The announcement of the deal may have averted, for now, a Turkish incursion into that part of Syria. Ankara seeks to push out U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters from the region as it considers them terrorists, allied with a Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey.

The Syrian Kurdish fighters were the main fighting force on the ground against Islamic State militants in the area, and Washington has been hard pressed to protect its partners.

Damascus said the Syrian Kurdish groups "bear historic responsibility'' for the U.S-Turkey deal and urged them to drop "this aggressive U.S.-Turkish project'' and align with the Syrian government instead.

Damascus has had no presence along the Turkish border since 2012, when Syrian rebels and Syrian Kurdish groups took control of different parts of the region.

After three days of talks in Ankara and repeated Turkish threats of a military incursion in northeast Syria, Turkish and U.S. officials agreed that the coordination center would be based in Turkey and would be set up "as soon as possible,'' according to the Turkish defense ministry.

The ministry did not provide further details but said the sides had agreed that the safe zone would become a "corridor of peace'' and that all additional measures would be taken to ensure the return of refugees to Syria.

Turkey has been pressing to control, in coordination with the U.S., a 19-25 mile-deep zone within Syria, east of the Euphrates River, and wants no Syrian Kurdish forces there.

In its previous military incursions, Turkey entered northwestern Syria, expelling Islamic State militants and Syrian Kurdish fighters from the area and setting up Turkish military posts there, with allied Syrian opposition fighters in control.

Turkish troops also man observation points that ring the last opposition stronghold in the northwest posts that are meant to uphold a now fraying cease-fire.

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