Turkey establishes safe zone in northern Syria: minister


Turkish army tanks were seen in Afrin, Syria, on Jan. 22, 2018. Turkey launched on Jan. 20 "Operation Olive Branch" on the ground to oust Kurdish militia from Syria's Afrin. (Xinhua)

ANKARA, Nov. 21 (Xinhua) -- Turkey has established a safe zone 145 km in length and 30 km in depth in northern Syria, but Ankara and Moscow are still in talks for the presence of Syrian Kurdish fighters there, the Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Thursday.

"The Russian Federation delegation informed that a total of 34,000 YPG (People's Protection Units) members with 3,260 heavy weapons were taken out from the east of Tel Rifat, Munbic and east of the Euphrates to the south of the safe zone which is 30 km deep since the morning of October 29, in accordance with the principles set out in the Sochi Agreement," the minister said speaking at the budget talks of the Turkish parliament.

But Ankara has contrary findings and the issue is being discussed with Moscow, he added.

On Oct. 9, Turkey launched a military incursion, Operation Peace Spring, into northern Syria in a bid to drive Kurdish fighters out of the border region, following the pullout of U.S. troops.

On Oct. 13, the Kurdish-led administration in northern Syria said the Syrian army will deploy along some parts of the border with Turkey in an agreement with the Kurdish-led administration in northern Syria to help repel a Turkish offensive.

The U.S. reached a deal with Turkey on Oct. 17, imposing a five-day cease-fire to allow the Kurdish forces to pull back from the planned safe zone that Turkey wants to create in northern Syria aiming its border security.

On Oct. 22, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin held a meeting in Sochi, Russia, agreeing on the parameters for a region in the west and east of the borders of the current Operation Peace Spring in northern Syria.

The deal stipulates that the YPG fighters pull back 30 km south of Turkey's border within 150 hours and then Turkish and Russian soldiers would start joint patrols 10 km, or 6 miles, from the Turkish border in an agreed region that excludes the city of Qamishli.

The minister also said the Patriot missile defense systems deployed by Spain in 2015 as part of NATO mission to protect Turkey from attacks from Syria will remain deployed in Turkish territory by the end of 2019.

He added that talks for extension of this period are ongoing.

However, the mission for the SAMP-T system of Italy will end by the end of the year, Akar stated.

A debate among NATO members erupted when some alliance members criticized Turkey's last military operation into Syria. NATO has provided Ankara with air defense systems in the southern part of the country on a rotational basis.