Officials from the U.S. and Turkey have been holding talks for a safe zone east of the river Euphrates to address Turkey’s security concerns stemming from the presence of Kurdish fighters in the region. Turkey views Kurdish fighters _ who have battled the Islamic State group alongside U.S. forces _ as terrorists, allied with a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey.
Ankara wants a zone along the border with Syria that would be cleared of the Kurdish fighters. It also says such a zone would be safe for Syrians and allow some of the country’s refugees to return.
Turkey has warned of a possible new offensive into Syria if an agreement on a safe zone is not reached, and has recently been sending reinforcements to its border area. Since 2016, Turkey has launched two cross-border offensives against IS and the Kurdish fighters.
In an apparent reference to Kurdish militants in Syria, Erdogan told party officials in a speech: “Those who engage in bullying by putting their trust in foreign forces will tomorrow find themselves in the grave.”
Marine Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, the Central Command chief, had visited Syria’s Kurdish-held areas on Monday for the first time since he took his post in March. McKenzie met with the top Kurdish commander where the two discussed the safe zone. Kurdish officials at the time said only dialogue can settle the security situation in northeastern Syria.
Erdogan said a new Turkish incursion into Syria east of the Euphrates would cut off contact between Syria’s Kurdish fighters and Iraq, where Turkey has been carrying out airstrikes targeting alleged Kurdish rebel hideouts.
In Syria, the Foreign Ministry expressed its condemnation of what it called the destructive U.S. interference in the country. The ministry said U.S. involvement in Syria aims to prolong and complicate the crisis, undermining the unity and safety of the country’s territory. An unnamed official from the foreign ministry said in a statement that Syria rejects categorically any forms of agreements with Turkey that constitute blatant violations of the sovereignty and unity of Syria.
“The pretexts of national security the Turkish regime is putting forward belie its policies and behaviors as a main base for terrorism, offering it all kinds of military and logistical support,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, the Turkish leader also confirmed that Turkey had caught or killed all of the suspects behind the killing of a Turkish diplomat last week in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region.
Turkish media reported Thursday that the military, acting on Turkish intelligence, targeted two vehicles carrying the alleged masterminds of the July 17 attack, which killed Osman Kose at a restaurant in Irbil. The reports said the alleged planners and their bodyguards were killed on July 18 and July 24.
Iraq’s Kurdish security officials said last weekend they have arrested the lead suspect in the shooting, identifying him as a 27-year-old who hails from Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir.
Erdogan said: “We caught all of those who martyred our Consulate employee. If any of them were missing, they were rendered ineffective in their dens through successful operations.”