Turkish military officials and their US counterparts agreed to a safe zone in northern Syria, a "peace corridor" for displaced Syrians longing to return home. The Syrian regime has rejected this proposal.
Calling Wednesday’s talks with US officials over the creation of a safe zone in northern Syria a “very good start”, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warned Turkey will not allow these efforts to stall in the same way that their agreement on control of the Syrian town of Manbij has been delayed.
"We can describe yesterday’s agreement a very good start,” Cavusoglu said at a press conference on Thursday on the sidelines of the 11th Ambassadors' Conference in Turkey's capital Ankara.
On Wednesday, Turkish military officials and their US counterparts agreed that the safe zone in northern Syria would be a "peace corridor" for displaced Syrians to return home.
A Joint Operations Centre will be established in Turkey to coordinate and manage the establishment of the safe zone.
"We will not allow these efforts (on the safe zone) to turn into the Manbij roadmap," Cavusoglu said. He said he and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo drew up the roadmap in June last year, and that it was supposed to be executed within 90 days.
"But the United States delayed this with many excuses, such as joint patrols," he said.
Ankara has repeatedly expressed its frustration with the slow progress over Syria's Manbij.
The Manbij deal between Turkey and the US focuses on the withdrawal of YPG from the city to stabilise the region, which is located in the northern part of Syria’s Aleppo province.
The US backs the PYD/YPG-dominated SDF militia in the battle against Daesh in Syria.
The YPG is the Syrian offshoot of the PKK terrorist organisation. In its 30-year terror campaign against the Turkish state, more than 40,000 people, including women and children, have been killed.
Turkey, the US and the EU recognise the PKK as a terrorist organisation.
Meanwhile, Damascus said on Thursday it strongly rejects the proposed US-Turkish safe zone in northern Syria, blaming the "aggressive" project on the YPG, who gave the proposal a guarded welcome.
“Syria categorically and clearly rejects the agreement between the American and Turkish occupiers on the establishment of a so-called safe zone,” a regime source told SANA news agency.
"Syria's Kurds who have accepted to become a tool in this aggressive US-Turkish project bear a historical responsibility," the source added, urging YPG to return to the fold.
Renewed fighting in northwest Syria after a brief ceasefire has triggered "total panic", a top UN official said Thursday, warning that a possible regime offensive in the area was "like playing with fire".
The rebel-held bastion of Idlib, the last major opposition stronghold in Syria, is currently home to about three million people.
The United Nations has raised specific alarm about the risks of a massive regime offensive in the area because Idlib has for several years served as a reception zone for those escaping regime advances elsewhere in the country.
"These people don't know where to go," the UN's humanitarian chief for Syria, Panos Moumtzis said, stressing that there is no other opposition stronghold where people can flee if Idlib confronts a full assault by regime leader Bashar al Assad's forces.
"A total panic has resumed again," added Moumtzis.
He spoke after a meeting in Geneva that including envoys from Syrian ally Russia, which has reportedly hit southern Idlib with air strikes this week.
"It is like playing with fire at the moment and we worry about it coming out of control," Moumtzis said.