The reported deal between Syria's Bashar Assad Regime and the PKK terror organization's Syrian affiliate will not affect the advance of Turkey's Operation Olive Branch, said President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan yesterday. It was reported that the deal will allow regime forces to be deployed in Afrin to support the People's Protection Units (YPG) against Turkish forces. "The Operation Olive Branch will continue as planned," President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told his Russian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin, on the phone yesterday. Regarding a possible YPG-Assad deal, Erdoğan told Putin that if the Syrian regime chooses to do support the YPG, there would be consequences. According to presidential sources, during the phone conversation Erdoğan informed Putin on Operation Olive Branch, and the two confirmed their cooperation and joint action in the fight against terrorism.
The presidential sources also said that Moscow welcomed Turkey's determination to continue the operation. Earlier yesterday, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also commented on the issue during a joint press conference with his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi in the capital Amman. "Now, will the regime enter there? If they do, what for? That is important. If the regime enters to clear out the PKK and the YPG then there is no problem. If they are entering [Afrin] to provide protection to the YPG, then no one can stop Turkey or Turkish soldiers. This is not for Afrin only, but also for Manbij and for the east of the Euphrates too," Çavuşoğlu told reporters.
Media outlets close to Iran and the Syrian regime have said that the Popular Forces, aligned with the Assad regime, would enter northwestern Afrin, a YPG-held town, toward which Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch on Jan. 20, to clear the town of the PKK-linked group.
On Sunday, a senior YPG official told Reuters that the group had reached a deal for the Syrian army to enter Afrin and that it could be implemented within two days. Meanwhile, unconfirmed reports said the popular forces would be [expected to] enter Afrin at 6 p.m. yesterday.
Daily Sabah contacted U.S. officials for a comment on the reports between the Assad and the YPG; however, no comment was made available by the time Daily Sabah went to print.
According to sources, the negotiations on the deal between YPG and the Assad regime were carried out over six articles demanded by the regime forces: All administrative buildings are to be transferred to the Syrian regime and the Syrian flag to be raised [over police stations, hospitals, and schools]; small or large military posts to be transferred to the regime [52 posts]; the YPG is to hand over, large or small, all weaponry to the regime; all males above 16-years-old, who were conscripted to the military forcefully by the YPG are to be transferred to the regime army; all forcefully migrated residents are to be allowed to returned to their residential areas; and all civilians who support the YPG are to return their weapons to the Syrian regime.
While Bashar al-Assad's government and the YPG espouse different visions for Syria's future and their forces have clashed at times, they have mostly avoided direct conflict.
Afrin has been held by the YPG terrorist group since 2012. It is a strategic province for the YPG's goal of establishing an autonomous region in northern Syria. The YPG's ultimate aim is to establish an autonomous region in northern Syria by connecting the northwestern Afrin canton to the Kobani and Jazeera cantons in the northeast, which would provide the group access to the Mediterranean Sea.
Turkey has long said that it will not allow such an establishment, due to the group's organic links to the PKK terror organization, which is listed as a terrorist group by the United States, the EU, and Turkey. However, despite clear organizational links between the groups, the U.S. has supported the YPG, under the Syrian Democratic Forces, in the fight against Daesh since 2015 by providing them weapons and military equipment, as well as logistical support. The support to the YPG, which began during former President Barack Obama's term in office, has also continued during President Donald Trump's term, straining relations between Ankara and Washington.
The recent diplomatic visits from Washington to Ankara by National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have offered hope for normalizing ties. U.S. officials have underlined that the White House is aware of Turkey's security concerns, while the Turkish counterparts have underlined that the broken promises in the past have led to mistrust in relations and that the repairing of severed ties will only be possible when Turkey sees concrete steps taken to overcome disagreements, particularly in Syria policy, as well as inaction over extradition demands for the leader of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), Fetullah Gülen, who has been living in the U.S. since 1999. Gülen is the mastermind of the group, which carried out the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
During the visit by Tillerson last week, Turkey and the U.S. agreed to establish a joint mechanism to work on differences. "There will be a triple joint mechanism in relations with the U.S.," Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım told reporters on his way back from Germany on Sunday, where he attended the Munich Security Conference.
Yıldırım said that defense ministers, foreign affairs ministers and the heads of the intelligence agencies of the two countries would all work closely with each other.
According to information obtained by Daily Sabah, Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu is also expected to visit the U.S., as part of the work that will be initiated to normalize relations.
After eliminating terror threats in Afrin, Turkey has said that the Turkish army and the FSA will move on to the eastern parts of the Euphrates River, as well as Manbij, currently held by the PYD-YPG.
Indicating that there can be no negotiations either west nor east of the Euphrates, Yıldırım highlighted that the Manbij operation is a step that should be taken.
"We cannot tolerate any terrorist establishment against Turkey in either Iraq nor Syria in the middle and long term. We cannot have any negotiation on the west or the east of the Euphrates either. Wherever there is a threat, we will be there. Our soldiers will be on their [terrorists] trail wherever they go and will do what is necessary to do," Yıldırım added.
According to the Turkish General Staff, the operation on Afrin aims to establish security and stability along Turkey's borders and the region as well as protect Syrians from oppression and the cruelty of the terrorists.
While some countries criticize the operation, calling it a distraction from the fight against Daesh, Turkish officials reiterate that Turkey has all the right reasons to be in Afrin according to the principles of self-defense enshrined in Article 51 of the U.N. Charter. The operation is being carried out in accordance with Turkey's rights based on international law and U.N. Security Council resolutions, especially No. 1624 (2005), 2170 (2014) and 2178 (2014); and Article 51 of the U.N. Charter on Right of Self Defense, Ankara says.
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