Kurds and Turkey in new row over Syria ‘safe zone’

Kurds and Turkey in new row over Syria ‘safe zone’
Turkey and Syrian Kurdish officials have made contradictory statements regarding a new 'safe zone' in north-eastern Syria, with the Kurds rejecting any permanent Turkish presence there.
3 min read
29 August, 2019
Kurds protest against Turkey at the Turkish-Syrian border [Getty]

Kurdish officials from the self-proclaimed Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria have said that Turkey will play no role in the running of a new “safe zone” in northern Syria.

Their comments came as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that he would not allow the US to delay establishment of the zone.

The “safe zone” was agreed earlier this month following difficult negotiations between Turkey and the United States. Thursday’s comments from the Kurdish and Turkish side appeared to contradict each other and underlined continued tensions.

The head of the defence authority of the Kurdish Autonomous Administration, Zaidan Al-Asi told the Syrian SMART News Agency, said that members of military and local councils from Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn in northern and north-eastern Syria would “exclusively assume local and security administration under US supervision, without Turkish intervention”.

Asi said that the first stage of setting up the security zone would involve the Kurdish-led, US backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) pulling back 5 to 14 kilometres from the Turkish border.

The SDF gave a cautious welcome to the safe zone last Saturday even though Turkey considers their main component militia, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) a “terrorist” offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984.

Also on Saturday Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar announced that a new joint operations centre to control the zone was up and running

Asi added that there had been no agreement yet on Turkish deployment to the safe zone and that the Turkish army’s role would be “limited to running joint patrols with the US army, and it would return to its bases inside Turkey after these patrols”.

Turkish President Erdogan commented on Thursday that he would not allow the US to stall the establishment of the “safe zone”.

"We will never allow a delay similar to that in Manbij. The process should advance swiftly," Erdogan said, according to broadcaster CNN Turk.

Turkey and the United States in May 2018 agreed a road map including the withdrawal of the YPG from Manbij in northern Syria.

"The agreement made with the US towards clearing the east of the Euphrates (river) from the YPG and setting up a safe zone is the right step," Erdogan said after returning from talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He said the YPG was "pulling a trick in Manbij" and had not withdrawn. Turkey has repeatedly accused the US of delaying the previous deal.

Erdogan added that Turkish forces and armoured vehicles were already at the border, adding: "We are in a position where we can do anything at any moment."

Turkey repeatedly threatened to launch a third cross-border offensive in Syria against the YPG until the safe zone agreement was signed.

Previous offensives by the Turkish military supporting Syrian rebels took place against IS in 2016 and against the YPG in early 2018.