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Turkey slams US plan for a Syrian "safe zone" scheme as Nato allies clash over Kurds

THE row between Nato allies the United States and Turkey escalated further yesterday, when Ankara accused Washington of laying plans for a “safe zone” covering much of northern Syria.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had floated the idea of a 19-mile-deep “safe zone” south of the Turkish-Syrian border.

That territory is largely controlled by the Kurdish YPG militia, which enjoys US support even though it is a sister organisation of Turkey’s banned Kurdistan Workers Party, designated a terrorist group by Washington and EU nations.

Turkey launched an invasion of Afrin canton in north-west Aleppo province a week ago after the Pentagon announced plans to use the YPG to seize control of Syria’s borders with Turkey and Iraq.

Mr Cavusoglu said Ankara and Washington may have differing “understandings and expectations” as to what a safe zone would entail.”

He added: “We would need to restore trust before we can even discuss a serious issue such as forming a safe zone with the United States, let alone accept it.”

But, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Mr Tillerson denied making the suggestion, saying: “No, we discussed a number of possible options, but we didn't propose anything.”

Also in Davos, US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser Tom Bossert called on Turkey to “remove” itself from Afrin and focus on “longer-term strategic goals” in Syria.

He said the Turks “ought to be mindful of the potential for escalation as they move into Syria and Afrin.”

Earlier, Turkish officials disputed the White House account of Wednesday’s phone call between Mr Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

They denied that Mr Trump had raised “concerns [about] escalating violence” in the invasion and reiterated his pledge to Mr Erdogan late last year to stop arming the YPG.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim later lambasted Washington for arming Ankara’s enemies, saying: “It is astounding and unacceptable … that a country which is supposed to protect Nato’s borders is giving open support to armed entities that target our borders.”

Meanwhile, Isis launched a surprise offensive north-east of the far south-eastern Syrian town of Abu Kamal, which the Syrian army retook late last year.

Lebanon’s al-Masdar News said the army’s al-Rida unit, composed of Lebanese Hezbollah guerillas, had “virtually annihilated” an Isis advanced party that crossed the River Euphrates to attack four villages.

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