Erdogan: Turkey can go it alone to establish Syria safe zone

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during a military academy ceremony in Ankara, Turkey, Thursday Jan. 24, 2019. Erdogan says he is shocked by U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido's claim to the presidency.(Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)

ISTANBUL - Turkey's president warned on Friday that Ankara can go it alone in establishing a safe zone in northeastern Syria if talks with Washington on the issue fail to produce results.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would not "wait forever" to set up the so-called safe zone east of the Euphrates River in Syria. Ankara wants Syrian Kurdish militia to withdraw from there and Erdogan has been seeking logistical and financial assistance from the U.S. in this.

Turkey has pushed for the creation of a 32-kilometre (20-mile) zone to serve as a buffer and ensure that the Syrian Kurdish militia — The People's Protection Units, or YPG, which Turkey considers to be a terrorist group for its ties to outlawed Kurdish rebels inside Turkey — is kept away from the Turkish border after U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria. The details of the planned pullout of some 2,000 American troops remain unclear.

The Syrian Kurds have been a key U.S. ally. The YPG is the main component of the Syrian Democratic Forces, which rolled back the Islamic State group from wide parts of Syria with the help of the U.S.-led coalition.

Turkey has threatened to launch a new military offensive against the Syrian Kurdish forces while the U.S. has warned it would protect its Kurdish allies and cautioned Turkey against such an operation.

In a call earlier this month, Erdogan and President Donald Trump discussed the possibility of the safe zone in an apparent effort to reduce tensions. Turkish and U.S. defence officials have been assessing plans.

On Friday, Turkey's Defence Minister Hulusi Akar met with Trump's envoy for Syria, James Jeffrey, and asked that the U.S. "end its relationship with the terror organization YPG" and ensure the group's withdrawal from Manbij, a key town in northern Syria.

Erdogan said Turkey must have control in the safe zone and added: "We are closed to all solution proposals other than this."

Erdogan earlier this week met Russian President Vladimir Putin as Moscow signalled it could be open for discussions about the Turkish push for carving out a safe zone. However, Moscow argued for the Syrian government to take over areas currently controlled by the U.S. and Kurdish forces.

Also Friday, the U.S.-led coalition said it is investigating a potential incident involving civilian casualties in areas of fighting with IS in Syria's eastern province of Deir el-Zour bordering Iraq.

The statement said the incident happened on Jan. 22 and that the coalition "takes all allegations of civilian casualties seriously and investigates each incident reported through any means."

Syrian state media and opposition activists have reported several airstrikes that they blamed on the U.S.-led coalition, saying scores of people were killed over the past weeks.

The DeirEzzor 24, an activist collective, said a U.S.-led coalition airstrike killed several civilians as they were fleeing the eastern village of Baghouz near Iraq's border. The Syrian Democratic Forces later captured the village from IS.

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Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.


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