Syrian opposition leader hails proposals for 'safe zone'

Published 24.01.2019 00:03

The Syrian opposition has informed the U.S. of the need to closely coordinate with Turkey on its planned troop withdrawal, Syrian opposition leader Abdul Rahman Mustafa has said.

According to Mustafa, who leads the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, a proposed "safe zone" in northern Syria, near the Turkish border, could serve as a "haven" for the region's displaced civilians.

In an interview with Anadolu Agency (AA), with regard to a proposed "safe zone," Mustafa said, "The zone should serve as a haven for displaced civilians, regardless of ethnicity or religious affiliation."

Mustafa said: "We are following the terms of the road map agreed to between our ally, Turkey, and the U.S." "In this regard," Mustafa asserted, "The National Coalition is calling for the withdrawal of the YPG, which represents the PKK terrorist group in Manbij, to allow the return of refugees and displaced people."

On Tuesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that Turkey would establish a safe zone in northern Syria along the length of its border with the assistance of the U.S.-led coalition forces.

"We would then like to see local elections in Manbij allow the people to set up a civil administration, exactly like what took place in Afrin," he said. He added: "We believe that a military solution east of the Euphrates would contribute to reaching a political solution." In a bid to face threats emanating from the presence of the PKK's Syrian affiliate, the People's Protection Units (YPG), in Syria, Turkey seeks to fully implement the Manbij road map, which was first announced in early June to establish security and stability in the city by clearing out YPG forces. The deal envisages the withdrawal of the YPG from the city and joint patrols conducted by the militaries of both countries. YPG forces first gained control of the city in 2016 with the help of U.S-led coalition forces. Turkish and U.S. troops began joint patrols in Manbij on Nov. 1 as part the Manbij agreement.

On the planned U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria, Mustafa said that coordination with Turkey was "vital" to ensure that vacated areas "are not filled by terrorist groups or the regime and its allies."

"The National Coalition and the [Syrian] interim government, the coalition's executive arm, are ready to assume responsibility in the safe zone," Mustafa said.

"The National Coalition supports military operations against terrorist groups," Mustafa said. "We would welcome a Turkish military operation east of the Euphrates, just as we welcomed Turkey's Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations."

Mustafa also discussed his recent meeting with Joel Rayburn, the U.S. State Department's deputy assistant secretary for Levant affairs and special envoy for Syria. "The meeting was positive and constructive," Mustafa said. "We presented our vision for a solution in Syria, while Rayburn presented Washington's vision."

At the meeting, Mustafa said, "We also stressed the need to coordinate with our Turkish allies during the [U.S.] withdrawal - with a view to avoiding a security vacuum - and maintain constant contact with the Turks east of the Euphrates."

An opposition delegation is set to visit the U.S. next month, he said, "Since there should be permanent contact between active countries, whether in the field or with regard to the political process."

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