U.S. denies reaching agreement with Turkey on Syria ‘safe zone’
REUTERS photoThe U.S. State Department denied there was an agreement between Washington and Ankara on terms for a “safe zone” inside northern Syria where the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants would be kept out.
Turkish Foreign Ministry undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu reportedly said that the two countries had agreed to create a 98 km (61 miles) long and 45 km wide area to be patrolled by members of the Free Syrian Army.
The safe zone would allow U.S. and Turkish forces to hit ISIL and Kurdish militants if they entered the area, the CNNTurk broadcaster quoted Sinirlioğlu as saying on Aug. 11.
In a later statement, Turkey’s foreign ministry quoted the undersecretary as saying: “The control and protection of this region cleared of [ISIL] will be conducted by Syrian opposition forces and the necessary air defense and support for this ... will be provided by the U.S. and Turkey.”
Asked about the report, however, U.S. State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said, “There’s no agreement on some kind of zone.”
Toner said he had not seen the Turkish official’s remarks and could not address them. “I’m not denying his claims,” he added.
“We’ve been pretty clear from the podium and elsewhere saying there’s no zone, no safe haven, we’re not talking about that here. What we’re talking about is a sustained effort to drive ISIL out of the region,” Toner said in a news briefing.
Turkey and the U.S. have agreed in general on a plan to clear ISIL militants from northern Syria by forming an “ISIL-free zone,” according to U.S. and Turkish officials.
The plan was part of a comprehensive deal between the two allies, which has been seen a “a game changer” in the fight against ISIL by the United States administration, whose warplanes will be able to use the region’s most strategic military base at İncirlik as part of its aerial campaign against jihadist positions in northern Syria along the Turkish border, American and Turkish officials say.
The ISIL-free zone will be 98 kilometers long, 40 kilometers wide and situated between the Mare-Jarablus line.
The plan crafted by Ankara and Washington foresees the deployment of Free Syrian Army (FSA) units to the area if ISIL is completely cleared from that particular zone, which would both prevent the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD) from further expanding its influence westward and create a safe environment to shelter Syrians fleeing violence or those who want to return to their homelands.
Turkey denies air campaign from İncirlik on Syria’s Atme
Turkey has denied media reports which stated U.S.-led air strikes targeting positions in the town of Atme in northern Syria were deployed from İncirlik airbase.
“No manned or unmanned aircraft that took off from İncirlik airbase or used Turkish airspace has participated in the aerial campaign by the coalition forces launched on targets in Syria’s Atme village on Aug. 11,” a Foreign Ministry statement said on late Aug. 11.
Syrian opposition sources claimed U.S.-led coalition air strikes hit targets in Atme, which lies north of Idlib and just east of the Turkish border, on Aug. 11.
The air strikes reportedly destroyed an arms storage facility belonging to Jaysh al Sunna, a Syrian opposition group. The opposition sources reportedly claimed there were “more than a dozen” civilian casualties resulting from the air strikes.