Syrian Kurdish YPG to withdraw from strip along Turkish border
August 27 2019 06:11 PM
Turkish military vehicles drive down a road in Syria's northern province of Idlib on August 26, 2019
Turkish military vehicles drive down a road in Syria's northern province of Idlib yesterday. AFP

Reuters/Beirut

The Kurdish YPG militia will pull forces and heavy weapons from a strip along Syria's border with Turkey under US-Turkish deals, an official in the YPG-led alliance said on Tuesday.
The YPG withdrew from some border positions in recent days, proving it is serious about ongoing talks, the Kurdish-led authority running north and east Syria also said.
The developments were a sign of progress in talks between the United States and Turkey aimed at resolving deep differences over the presence in the border area of Kurdish fighters -- allies of the United States that Turkey sees as enemies.
After Ankara repeatedly warned it would launch a military incursion into northeast Syria to push back the YPG from the border, Turkey and the United States said this month they had agreed on the first stages of a security deal along the border.
The two countries gave no details of the deal on what Turkey has called a 'safe zone' inside Syria. It followed months of stalemate over how far the zone should extend into northeast Syria, still a main point of friction, and who should command forces patrolling it.
The YPG spearheads the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, which controls much of north and east Syria. US troops have been stationed in the SDF region for years, training and arming the fighters who seized territory from Islamic State.
President Donald Trump said late last year he would withdraw the US troops, but has so far held back from doing so, in part to ensure that the Kurds are protected.
US support for the YPG has enraged Turkey, which deems the militia a security threat linked to Kurdish insurgents at home.
SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali told Reuters the strip along the border would vary between 5 and 14 km and will include rural areas or military positions, not cities or towns.
The YPG and SDF will dismantle barricades there and hand over control to military councils of local fighters, he said.
Bali said Turkish and US-led coalition forces would patrol the border strip but be based inside Turkey. The deal creates "a security mechanism, not safe zone, that assuages Turkey's claims of fearing over its national security," he added.
Ankara has already sent its military twice into northern Syria to push YPG fighters from its borders in recent years.
A source familiar with the talks told Reuters that although Washington and Ankara were still discussing how deep the zone would go, they had agreed to start work on one stretch of the border.
"The safety mechanism arrangement is being implemented in phases," the source said, adding that arrangements would vary at different parts of the border.
The source said US-Turkish joint patrols will monitor the removal of heavy weapons, fortifications and tunnels, along with YPG presence between Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ain, two Syrian border towns about 100 kms apart.
That stretch is around a quarter of the whole border that could be covered by the zone, which Turkey says should extend 32 km inside Syria.
A senior Turkish official said Ankara and Washington had bridged some, but not all, of their differences.
"There was a rapprochement, but our insistence on the 20 miles persists. The United States has taken steps to improve this, but they are still not enough," the official said. "It is not possible for us to accept the SDF's presence there."
President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that Turkish ground troops would enter the planned zone "very soon," after setting up a joint military centre with Washington to oversee the operation at the weekend. Turkish drones and helicopters had already flown over the region, he said.
Erdogan said Turkey had made all preparations to carry out its own plans if its expectations are not met.
The YPG has withdrawn from Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ain, the authority running the SDF region said on Tuesday. The move shows commitment to "reaching a solution through dialogue," the statement said.

Last updated: August 27 2019 06:12 PM


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