Syria condemns presence of Turkish and US forces around Manbij

Syria said on Tuesday it rejected the presence of Turkish and US forces around the northern town of Manbij, a day after soldiers of the two countries began patrolling the area, according to a report by Reuters.

Turkish and US troops on Monday began independent patrols along the line separating Turkish-controlled areas of northern Syria from the town of Manbij, which is controlled by a local militia affiliated to the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is dominated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia.

Ankara views the YPG as a terrorist organisation. Earlier this month Turkey and the US endorsed a tentative deal to overcome months of dispute over the town, in which the YPG would withdraw from Manbij and Turkish and US forces would jointly maintain security and stability there.

“Syria expresses its strong condemnation and absolute rejection of the incursion of Turkish and American forces in the vicinity of Manbij, which comes in the context of continued Turkish and American aggression,” Syria’s state news agency SANA said, quoting a foreign ministry statement. The statement also said the Syrian army is determined to “liberate all of Syria’s territory.”

Meanwhile, Turkish government spokesman Bekir Bozdağ said Tuesday that Turkey and the US have set a three-month timetable to complete the tasks agreed in a deal on Syria’s Manbij. “We have a 90 day timetable. [It stipulates] what will be done within a week, in two weeks, in a month, and so on,” Bozdağ told reporters in central Yozgat province.

The Manbij deal focuses on the withdrawal of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)-affiliated YPG terror group from the northern Syrian city and stability in the region. The agreement was first announced after a meeting in Washington earlier in June 4 between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoğlu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“A timetable is set, and as part of that timetable, tasks have begun to be done step by step,” Bozdağ said, referring to the start of joint patrol activity in Manbij by Turkish and US troops on Monday.

“While joint work is carried out to liberate the area from the terrorists, simultaneous efforts for the administration and the security of the region are being addressed and solved,” Bozdağ said, adding that a new security unit would be established and the city’s administration would be handed over to the local people of Manbij.

Also on Tuesday, Çavuşoğlu said Turkey is a key country on Syria-related matters in the Geneva, Astana and Sochi talks on the country’s future, including the Manbij issue. “Turkey is a prime mover in the Astana process, and currently Turkey is a prime mover in efforts on the ground, including Manbij,” Çavuşoğlu told news channel NTV.

“Turkey is a prime mover in ending conflicts, steps in confidence-building and humanitarian aid. Turkey is the key country in all matters related to Syria, including Syrians returning home,” he claimed.

He also argued for the importance of the Manbij roadmap agreed by Turkey and the US for Syria’s future. The deal focuses on the withdrawal of the PKK-affiliated YPG forces from the northern Syrian city of Manbij and on stability in the region. Should the model prove a success, Turkey has said it will push for a similar arrangement in eastern Syria.

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