Report

U.S., Turkey to Create ‘Safe Zone’ in Syria

The United States and Turkey, working in concert with Syrian rebels, will create a “safe zone” in Syria, according to new reports. The plan is part of the U.S. agreement with Turkey, reached last week, to begin flying combat operations from Incirlik airbase. Officials say they are still working on the composition of Syrian rebels ...

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The United States and Turkey, working in concert with Syrian rebels, will create a “safe zone” in Syria, according to new reports. The plan is part of the U.S. agreement with Turkey, reached last week, to begin flying combat operations from Incirlik airbase. Officials say they are still working on the composition of Syrian rebels that will work to maintain the safe zone. “When areas in northern Syria are cleared of the [Islamic State] threat, the safe zones will be formed naturally,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Sunday. The area will be protected by U.S. air support but will not be covered as an official no-fly zone. Cavusoglu noted that the cleared area could be used to repatriate Syrian refugees.

The proposed area of the safe zone would extend along a 68-mile stretch of the Turkish border and would reach 40 miles into Syrian territory. The area is currently held by the Islamic State, but borders two regions of Syria currently held by Kurdish militias. Turkey has come into increasing conflict with fighters from the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) over the past week. A car bombing killed two Turkish soldiers, and Turkey has responded with airstrikes against Kurdish targets in Syria and Iraq. The spate of violence threatens to undo a ceasefire between Turkey and the PKK reached in 2013.

Humanitarian Ceasefire in Yemen Violated within Hours

Fighting in Yemen continued through the weekend, with Houthi and GCC-backed fighters clashing over a large airbase outside of Aden. A humanitarian ceasefire was scheduled to go into effect at midnight to allow aid to enter the country, but within hours of it beginning multiple violations have been reported.

Headlines

  • In a speech on Sunday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad admitted that his military, once 300,000 troops strong, has been halved by deaths, defections, and inadequate recruitment; “The problem facing the military is not related to planning but to fatigue,” he said.

 

  • Bahraini officials said they had foiled a plot to smuggle guns and explosives from Iran into Bahrain; the Manama also withdrew its ambassador to Tehran in response to “repeated hostile Iranian statements.”

 

  • Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is touring Arab nations and encouraging regional cooperation on counterterrorism; his trip includes stops in Kuwait, Qatar, and Iraq.

 

  • Palestinian youths throwing stones clashed with Israeli police at the Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem on Sunday; police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse crowds.

 

  • A U.N.-sponsored conference on stemming the flow of foreign fighters to the Islamic State and other extremist groups began today in Spain.

Arguments and Analysis

Working Group on Egypt Letter to Secretary Kerry” (Project on Middle East Democracy)

“We write to urge you to seize the upcoming U.S.­­–Egypt Strategic Dialogue as an opportunity to press the Government of Egypt to end its campaign of indiscriminate repression in order to advance a more effective strategy for countering violent extremism. The trends in Egypt are alarming. Since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took control in 2013, the frequency and lethality of militant jihadi attacks in Sinai and elsewhere in Egypt have increased dramatically. Violence in Egypt today comes in three main forms, all of which have been increasing in frequency and severity: sophisticated large-scale attacks carried out by well-organized militant groups, mostly based in Sinai; cruder small-scale attacks carried out by angry individuals or small groups; and violence carried out by government security forces, directed not only at violent extremists but also toward political opponents or critics of Sisi and his government.”

 

The battle for Aden is a tipping point in Yemen’s war” (April Longley Alley and Peter Salisbury, Reuters)

“A victory for the anti-Houthi front in Aden could also help to address a structural challenge of current negotiations. The UN strategy for ending Yemen’s war has been built around a plan to broker a deal between Yemen’s government-in-exile, led by ousted president Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, and the Sana’a-based Houthi-Saleh alliance. But the Hadi government’s main role in the conflict to date has been to publicly back an aerial campaign and naval blockade of Yemen by a coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia. The real fighting on the ground has been done by local groups defending their home turf with few links and little, if any, fealty to the Hadi government. A meaningful ceasefire, and more importantly political negotiations over a government and other unresolved issues, would require buy-in from these groups. The formation of a consolidated anti-Houthi front based in Aden would make it easier for the UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed to broker a meaningful agreement between all of the warring parties.”

-J. Dana Stuster

ILYAS AKENGIN/AFP/Getty Images

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