September 4, 2018 / 2:03 PM / 3 months ago

Turkey says it told U.S. that Kurdish militants must leave Syria

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey told the United States on Tuesday that Kurdish militants must completely abandon Syria, the Turkish defence ministry said, as violence in the rebel-held northern Syrian enclave of Idlib escalated.

FILE PHOTO: Turkey's Chief of the General Staff Hulusi Akar is seen during the EFES-2018 Military Exercise near the Aegean port city of Izmir, Turkey May 10, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal/File Photo

Earlier on Tuesday, Russia resumed its air strikes against insurgents in Idlib after 22 days, following weeks of aerial bombardment and shelling against rebels by pro-Syrian government forces in an apparent prelude to a full-scale offensive.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has sworn to recapture every inch of Syria and has made big gains against rebels since Russia joined his war effort in 2015.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Iran, which also backs Assad, was making efforts to remove militants from Idlib with the least human cost.

Turkey, which has backed some rebels against Assad, has previously said that a military operation into Idlib, the last major rebel enclave in the country, would be disastrous.

U.S. President Donald Trump warned Assad and his allies on Monday not to “recklessly attack” Idlib, saying hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. Russia, however, dismissed the comments and said the area was a “nest of terrorism”.

During talks in Ankara on Tuesday, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar told U.S. special representative for Syria, James Jeffrey, that Turkey wanted Kurdish militants to fully abandon the region, the ministry said in a statement.

It said Akar and Jeffrey also discussed recent developments in Syria and the minister conveyed Turkey’s discomfort with the presence of Kurdish militants in the region.

The request comes as Turkish and U.S. forces are carrying out joint patrols in the northwestern Syrian city of Manbij as part of a roadmap to clear the area of YPG militants.

Turkey has been infuriated with Washington’s support for the YPG militia, which Ankara sees as an extension of the insurgent Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Turkey has also carried out two-cross border operations against the YPG in Syria.

In a move long sought by Turkey, the NATO allies agreed in June to implement a roadmap for the northern Syrian city of Manbij, where Ankara had threatened to push its ground offensive despite the U.S. troops stationed there.

Ankara and Washington have more recently been at a stand-off over the fate of a U.S. evangelical pastor being tried in Turkey on terrorism charges that he denies. The widening row has sent Turkey’s lira currency plunging some 40 percent this year.

Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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