Turkey wants safe zone in Syria including Azaz

Friday 12/02/2016
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ANKARA - Turkey said on Wednesday it was seeking to create a "safe line" inside Syria that would include the flashpoint northern town of Azaz near the Turkish border.

"We want to form a 10-kilometre (six-mile) safe line inside Syria, including Azaz," Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan told A Haber television in an interview.

Turkey has long pressed for a safe zone, backed up by a no-fly zone, to protect its borders and provide protection for refugees on Syrian soil.

Akdogan did not elaborate on the dimensions of the proposed zone or how it could be created.

Alarmed by the advances of Syrian Kurdish forces in Aleppo province near the border, Ankara has in recent days bombed their positions, defying international calls for a halt to the strikes.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday backed calls for a no-fly zone in Syria, saying it "would be helpful if there could be such an area, where none of the parties are allowed to launch aerial attacks."

Moscow, which has carried out airstrikes to help President Bashar al-Assad regime's ground offensive in northern Syria, said Wednesday that any decision would have to be approved by Damascus.

"Any decisions on creating some sort of no-fly zones cannot be taken without the agreement by the receiving side and without a relevant UN Security Council decision," deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov told Interfax.

Turkey accuses Kurdish fighters from the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria of links to the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

The fate of Azaz is of particular concern to Turkey, with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu making clear Ankara will not allow Kurdish fighters to take it from anti-regime rebels.

The Turkish shelling in northern Syria has troubled an already complicated situation in Aleppo province, where regime forces have made significant advances with backing from Russian air strikes.

Turkey has set up several camps inside Syria near Azaz to house Syrians fleeing the regime's strikes.