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Turkey provides diverse support for Syrian opposition - U.S. Syria envoy Jeffrey

Jul 20  2019

The U.S. Special Representative on Syria, James Jeffrey, said on Friday that Turkey effectively supported the opposition in Syria in different ways, but Ankara and Washington’s views differed on U.S.’ role in northeast Syria.

Jeffrey spoke at the Aspen Security Forum, before a visit to Turkey on July 22 for a working group meeting on Syria.

The diplomat talked about the situation in Idlib, the last major rebel-held enclave in Syria, which hosts some three million internally displaced people according to UN figures.

Ankara and Moscow in September agreed on a deal on Idlib that included the establishment of a demilitarised zone in the province and the removal of jihadi fighters.

Damascus backed by Moscow launched a military offensive in April in Idlib, after the formerly Al Qaeda-affiliated group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) extended the territories under its control in the region despite the Turkish-Russian deal.

Jeffrey said the United States supported Ankara’s position that first of all the ceasefire in Idlib had to be restored, adding that Washington was pleased that Turks had been reenforcing their positions in the province. Turkey says the Syrian government forces targeted its observation posts in Idlib three times since the offensive has started.

“Turks are maintaining a strong position there. They are supporting the opposition in many different ways I do not want to get into detail, but it is effective,” Jeffrey said.

According to the diplomat, Washington and Ankara have been discussing how to go after terrorist cells in the region, particularly the terrorist leadership.

The two countries have also been negotiating the establishment of a safe zone in northeast Syria since last year.

Turkey over the last week has increased its military deployments on the Syrian-Turkish border, signalling the beginning of a possible offensive against Kurdish People Protection Units (YPG) in northeast Syria, which Ankara sees as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Ankara has repeatedly accused Washington of ignoring an ally’s security concerns by providing equipment to the YPG, which forms the backbone of U.S.-led coalition fighting against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria.

“We differ on our role in northeast Syria,” Jeffrey said. “We are partnered with the Syrian Democratic Forces which is led by essentially an offshoot of the PKK,” he said, adding that the United States did not recognise the Kurdish militia in Syria as a terrorist group.

“It is going,” Jeffrey said when asked how talks with Turkey over the establishment of a safe zone had progressed. “Going, I think, is a pretty thorough answer,” he said when his first comment was met with laughter.

The diplomat said Washington understood Turkey’s security concerns, but on the other hand still had an ongoing mission for fighting against ISIS.