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US-Turkish plan for safe zone in Syria ‘a blatant violation’, warns Damascus

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan reviews a guard of honour at the airport in Bursa

Syria has accused Turkey of “expansionist ambitions”, saying Ankara’s agreement with the US to set up a so-called safe zone in the north east of the country only helps such plans and is a violation of Syria‘s sovereignty.

The statement by the Foreign Ministry comes a day after the US and Turkey announced they had agreed to form a co-ordination centre to set up the safe zone.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the move was important and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday Turkey will not allow efforts to establish a safe zone to stall in the same way that their agreement on control of the Syrian town of Manbij has been delayed, .

The Manbij roadmap was an agreement made between the Nato allies last year for the withdrawal of the Kurdish YPG militia from the town. Ankara considers the YPG a terrorist organisation.

The announcement of the deal may have averted – for now – a Turkish incursion into that part of Syria. Ankara wants to push out US-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters from the region as it considers them terrorists allied with a Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey.

The Syrian Kurdish fighters were the main fighting force on the ground against Islamic State militants in the area, and Washington has been hard-pressed to protect its partners.

Damascus said the Syrian Kurdish groups “bear historic responsibility” for the US-Turkey deal and urged them to drop “this aggressive US-Turkish project” and align with the Syrian government instead.

Damascus has had no presence along the Turkish border since 2012, when Syrian rebels and Syrian Kurdish groups took control of different parts of the region.

After three days of talks in Ankara and repeated Turkish threats of a military incursion in north-east Syria, Turkish and US officials agreed that the co-ordination centre would be based in Turkey and would be set up “as soon as possible”, according to the Turkish defence ministry.

The ministry did not provide further details but said the sides had agreed that the safe zone would become a “corridor of peace” and that all additional measures would be taken to ensure the return of refugees to Syria.

Turkey has been pressing to control – in co-ordination with the US – a 19 to 25-mile-deep zone within Syria, east of the Euphrates River, and wants no Syrian Kurdish forces there.

In its previous military incursions, Turkey entered north-western Syria, expelling IS militants and Syrian Kurdish fighters from the area and setting up Turkish military posts, with allied Syrian opposition fighters in control.

Turkish troops also man observation points that ring the last opposition stronghold in the north west – posts that are meant to uphold a now fraying ceasefire.

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