August 07, 2019

Turkish assault on Kurdish-held Syria averted after agreement with US on safezone
The US has pulled Turkey back from the brink of a full-on military assault on Kurdish-held Syria, after agreeing to a “safezone”. After three days of talks, the two countries on Wednesday announced they planned to establish a joint operation centre in Turkey to coordinate and manage a planned deconfliction zone in northern Syria. However, the agreement was scant on detail. It is still unclear which areas the so-called safezone covers, which forces will police it, and when it will be implemented. Ankara had been demanding a hundreds of miles-long and 15-25mile-wide buffer zone, which was to be clear of fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia.  They also wanted the US to sever ties with the group, which had been its main frontline partner against the Islamic State (Isil). Turkey sees the YPG as a terrorist offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought an insurgency inside its territory for the past 35 years. The demand put the US in a difficult position, forcing it to juggle the interests of anti-Isil coalition partner, the YPG, and Nato ally Turkey. A territorial map of Syria, complete with Turkey's proposed buffer zone Credit: AFP Washington had proposed a two-tiered safe zone, with a three-mile demilitarised strip bolstered by an additional five miles cleared of heavy weapons. Hulusi Akar, Turkey's defence minister, had said earlier that the US was shifting closer to Ankara's views on the proposed safezone. "Our plans, preparations, the deployment of our units in the field are all complete. But we said we wanted to act together with our friend and ally, the United States," state-owned Anadolu Agency quoted him as saying. The defence ministry on Wednesday said Turkey's ultimate aim was to create a "peace corridor" that can "ensure that our Syrian brothers will be able to return to their country." Anti-refugee sentiment has been growing in Turkey, which hosts more than 3.6 million Syrians - three times the number taken in by European Union member countries. It has carried out similar incursions into majority-Kurdish towns and cities over the border, including Afrin, Jarablus and al-Bab, in the last 18 months. The offensive in Afrin, codenamed “Olive Branch”, displaced more than 130,000 people, in what rights groups called a forced demographic change. Kurdish officials in Syria did not immediately comment on the proposal, but it will likely assuage fears of an imminent unilateral assault.
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