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Turkey says will not allow any delay in Syria 'safe zone'

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu delivers a speech during the 11th Ambassadors' Conference held by Turkey's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ankara, on August 5, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says Turkey will not allow any delay in the process of establishing a so-called safe zone in northern Syria, where US-backed Kurdish militants are based, much to Ankara’s dismay.

The remarks on Thursday came a day after Turkish and US military officials reached an agreement to establish a Joint Operations Center to oversee a safe zone to manage tensions between Turkey and Kurdish militants.

The details of the safe zone have not been disclosed, but Ankara is expecting the creation of a 32-kilometer buffer zone in the region in an attempt to keep the militants at bay.

Turkey has time and again threatened to carry out yet another cross-border offensive into the Arab country to eliminate the Kurdish militants.

The Wednesday agreement, which appeared to reduce the chance of an imminent Turkish military action, would also create a “peace corridor” for displaced Syrians longing to return home.

The Turkish government has long been infuriated by Washington’s persisting support of the People's Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish militant group in northern Syria, that the US regards as its proxy. 

The YPG plays as the backbone of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an anti-Damascus alliance of predominantly Kurdish militants.

Ankara has declared the YPG as a terrorist group and views it as the Syrian branch of Turkey’s homegrown Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a terrorist group that has been fighting for an autonomous region inside the Anatolian country since 1984.

“We will not allow these efforts (on the safe zone) to turn into the Manbij roadmap,” Cavusoglu told a press conference in Ankara.

He was referring to a previous agreement inked between Ankara and Washington in June last year to establish a safe zone for the Syrian town of Manbij, near the Turkish border,  which would see the YPG ousted from the town and moved back to the eastern bank of Euphrates. 

The agreement, known as the Manbij roadmap, was supposed to be executed within 90 days “but the United States delayed this with many excuses, such as joint patrols,” Cavusoglu added.

However, he praised the Wednesday agreement as “a very good start.”

Earlier in the day, the Syrian government lambasted the US-Ankara agreement, rejecting it as “blatant aggression.”

Turkey has already launched two operations in northern Syria. The first offensive dubbed "Euphrates Shield" began in August 2016 to stop the advance of Kurdish militants. 

Then in January 2018, Turkish military forces launched another cross-border military operation inside Syria, code-named “Operation Olive Branch,” with the declared aim of eliminating YPG militants from northern Syria, particularly the Afrin region.

UN: Ceasefire collapse in NW Syria threatens millions

The United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen on Thursday regretted the collapse of a ceasefire in the northwestern Syria, saying that fresh violence threatens the lives of millions, Reuters reported.

"Humanitarian actors are increasingly concerned by statements suggesting a possible military intervention, which would have severe humanitarian consequences in an area that has already witnessed years of military activity, displacement, droughts and floods," he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, AFP reported the UN's humanitarian chief for Syria, Panos Moumtzis, as saying on Thursday that renewed fighting in northwest Syria has triggered "total panic."

"These people don't know where to go," Moumtzis said, stressing that there is no other opposition stronghold where militants can flee if Idlib confronts a full assault by Syrian forces.

"It is like playing with fire at the moment and we worry about it coming out of control," Moumtzis said.

According to a UN estimate, 400,000 people have been displaced within Idlib over the last 100 days.

Contingencies are in place for up to 900,000 displacements, but there were no plans for managing an offensive that affected Idlib's entire population, Moumtzis said.

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