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US and Turkey to set up Syria safe zone

Turkey and the US have agreed to establish a joint operations centre to manage a safe zone in northern Syria.

A joint statement by the Turkish Defence Ministry and the US Embassy in Ankara said that both sides agreed to establish the Turkey-based operations centre “as soon as possible” and that the safe zone would become a ‘peace corridor’, without providing any more details.

It added that both countries would address: “The rapid implementation of initial measures to address Turkey’s security concerns,” and that “every effort shall be made so that displaced Syrians can return to their country”.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “It was important that a step be taken east of the Euphrates (river) and this is being taken together with the Americans. With the creation of the operations centre, the process will begin.”

North Eastern Syria is currently under the control of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), largely made up of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Turkey views the YPG as the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist organisation by the US, the EU and Turkey.

The joint statement did not specify how and when the zone would be created, but it appeared to prevent a Turkish attack on the YPG in northern Syria. On Tuesday President Erdoğan said the Turkish military operation in Syria will move to “a different phrase … we will move the process which we started with the Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations [in northern Syria] forward to a different phase very soon. Turkey has the right to eliminate all threats against its national security.”

Both sides agree that a buffer zone is needed to keep the YPG away from Turkey’s borders, but they disagree on how large it should be, or who should control it. Kobane Civil Administration spokesman Shahin Najib Al Ali said: “They say the meeting has ended and that they made an agreement about the shape of the safe zone, but how large this zone will be, what forces will participate in this, until now this is not clear.”