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Syrian Kurds call for Damascus help in face of Turkish operation

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A Turkish tank is stationed near the Syrian border on January 25, 2018, as part of concerted attacks against Kurdish militants in the Arab country’s northern region of Afrin. (Photo by AFP)

Kurdish authorities in Syria’s Afrin district have called on the Syrian government to send troops to help defend them from a Turkish incursion in line with protecting the country’s sovereignty.

“We call on the Syrian state to carry out its sovereign obligations towards Afrin and protect its borders with Turkey from attacks of the Turkish occupier ... and deploy its Syrian armed forces to  secure the borders of the Afrin area,” they said in a statement Thursday.

The Syrian government has given a degree of authority to the Kurdish regions to run their own affairs in the face of a foreign-backed militancy. The US, however, has used the vacuum to establish a foothold in those regions with the help of militants. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday the United States was "discouraging the Kurds from dialogue" with the Syrian government and "fomenting separatist sentiment" among them.

Earlier this month, the US announced that it would work with militants of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to set up a new 30,000-strong “border security” force in Syria. 

Turkey pounced on the announcement to launch a military incursion into Afrin last Friday with the purported aim of cleansing the areas near its southern borders of YPG militants which are affiliated to SDF.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has described US-sponsored Kurdish armed elements as “traitors” to the nation but has also denounced Turkish incursions as an act of aggression. 

Photo taken on June 9,s 2017 shows Kurdish militants monitoring in the region of Afrin, along Syria's northern border with Turkey. (Photo by AFP)

President Donald Trump spoke with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan over phone on Wednesday, hinting that Turkey's operation against US-backed militants in Syria “might risk conflict” between the two allies.  

In Ankara, Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag urged the United States on Thursday to halt its support for Kurdish militants or risk confronting Turkish forces on the ground in Syria. 

The Pentagon, however, later said on Thursday that it was in talks with Turkey about the possibility of creating a "security zone" in northwest Syria.

“Clearly we continue to talk to the Turks about a possibility of a secure zone, whatever you want to call it,” Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, joint staff director, told reporters.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also said Thursday that member state Turkey had a right to act in self-defense, adding that Ankara had briefed the Western military alliance on its Syria mission.

Turkey views SDF/YPD militants as allies of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) group, which has been fighting a separatist war against Ankara for decades.

Amid the convoluted situation and the increasingly complex theater of war in northern Syria, co-chair of Afrin's executive council Othman al-Sheikh Issa reiterated the region's appeal for help from the Syrian government.  

“If the Syrian state has a real position, with the capabilities it has, it should stand in the face of this aggression and say that it will not allow Turkish planes to fly in Syrian airspace,” he told the French news agency AFP. 

“We consider Afrin an inseparable part of Syrian territory. Any attack on Afrin is an attack on all the region’s people and on the sovereignty of the Syrian state," al-Sheikh Issa said.

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