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Turkey-US center for Syria safe zone to start work next week: Turkish defense minister

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar (C) speaks during a visit to Turkey’s southeastern province of Sanliurfa on August 16, 2019. (Photo by Anadolu news agency)

Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar says a Turkish-US operation center for a so-called safe zone in northeastern Syria, where US-sponsored Kurdish militants are operating, will be fully operational next week.

“The joint operation center will start working with full capacity next week,” Akar said during a visit to the southeastern province of Sanliurfa where he inspected troops chosen to participate in the plan.

He noted that Turkish and US officials had agreed that Kurdish militants from the People's Protection Units (YPG) should be removed from the border area, and their heavy weapons should be taken.

“There has been certain progress. It marks a good start. There are still things to be done, the efforts will continue,” Akar said.

The Turkish defense chief further noted that Ankara and Washington had also reached a general agreement on the coordination and control of the region’s air space, and on numerous other matters.

On Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his country would not tolerate any US delay in setting up a so-called safe zone in northern Syria.

“They (the Americans) first need to be sincere and need to understand that Turkey won’t tolerate delaying tactics,” Cavusoglu said during a press conference in the capital Ankara.

“What we say since the beginning is that a US stalling tactic will not work. Unfortunately, they employed such stalling on Manbij [a city in the northeastern part of Syria’s province of Aleppo]. They did not keep their promise,” he added.

The remarks came as an American military delegation has been at work in Sanliurfa since Monday.

On August 7, Turkey and the US reached an agreement on the establishment of a joint operation center in the northern part of Syria, in the wake of Ankara’s threats to launch an operation against YPG militants to push them away from the Turkish border.

Turkey views the YPG as the Syria branch of the homegrown Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militant group, which has been seeking an autonomous Kurdish region in Turkey since 1984.

Turkey expects the creation of a 32-kilometer (20-mile) safe zone in northern Syria, and has stressed that it wants the YPG cleared from the region.

The US has been arming and training Kurdish militants under the banner of helping them fight the terrorist group of Daesh, but Syria and several other countries see ulterior motives behind the deployment.

Turkey, a key US ally in the region, has repeatedly questioned Washington’s deployment of heavy weapons in Syria despite the defeat of Daesh in much of the Arab country.

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