U.S. and Turkey begin work to create Syria buffer zone
A U.S. delegation arrived in Turkey on Monday to begin working with Ankara on creating a buffer zone in northern Syria, under a plan strongly rejected by Damascus.
Turkish and U.S. officials struck a deal last week to establish the safe zone to manage tensions between Turkey and U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in war-torn Syria. But Damascus has accused Ankara and Washington of violating its sovereignty with the "expansionist" and "aggressive" project.
Turkey's defence ministry said that six U.S. officials arrived in the south-eastern city of Sanliurfa on Monday to start setting up a joint operations centre, which is to open "in the coming days".
No details have been provided on the size or timetable for the safe zone, but the deal appears to have provided some breathing room after Turkey had threatened an imminent attack on the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which control a large swathe of northern Syria.
Kobani, a city reborn after 'Islamic State' expulsion
Remember Kobani? Kurdish fighters freed the besieged Syrian city from "Islamic State" militants in a battle closely followed by international media in 2014. The town is slowly being rebuilt, but the drama remains. By Karlos Zurutuza
A symbol of resistance: the siege of the Syrian Kurdish city of Kobani was launched on 15 September 2014, by "Islamic State" militants. The offensive prompted a mass exodus from the town and surrounding countryside towards Turkey, though many stayed to fight the enemy. The sculpture at the entrance of the city pays homage to Arin Mirkan, a woman who ran towards an IS position and blew herself up with a hand grenade
Kobanigrad: U.S.-led airstrikes helped Kurdish forces on the ground until Kobani was officially liberated on 26 January. However, 70 percent of the once-bustling city on the Turkey-Syria border was nicknamed the "Kurdish Stalingrad," or "Kobanigrad." Officials claim that 50 percent of the damaged areas have been reconstructed
Rebuilding from scratch: despite promises from the international community to rebuild the city, local officials reveal that funds come either from the Kurdish diaspora or private donations. While Kobani's administration covers the cost of basic infrastructure such as roads and sewage, local residents have to pay an average $20,000 (€17,000) to rebuild their houses
A bustling bazaar: the city's bazaar is once again a focal point for visitors and residents. Goods, however, are not as readily available as locals would like due to the embargo enforced by both Ankara and Irbil over Kurdish-controlled Syria. Such political grievances also lead to a lack of basic construction materials, which is a major obstacle for the reconstruction process
'Health is life': since the first hospital was re-opened by the Kurdish Red Crescent in 2016, two others have been added to the list. Special medical equipment has been sent by UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders, but there's a growing need for medicines as the hospitals also cater to injured people brought daily from Raqqa, where fighting between the Kurdish-led force and "Islamic State" continues
In memoriam: the city is littered with pictures showing the portraits of those men and women who died during the siege of Kobani or on other fronts. That of Abdullah Ocalan, co-founder and imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party, is also a recurrent image in murals, banners and even uniform patches among the ranks of the Kurdish militia YPG
The war is far from over: although security has improved dramatically over the last three years, many still join the ranks of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the U.S. backed multi-ethnic force which is fighting "Islamic State" in its last Syrian strongholds. "I was too young to fight in 2014 but, at 18, I can no longer skip my obligations," says soldier Heval Sipan
My ruin, my house: many of those who cannot afford to pay for their houses to be rebuilt still struggle to survive in the rubble, with neither running water nor electricity. Three years after the siege, much of the debris has yet to be removed
Dreaming of rubble: there are also those who cannot even return to the rubble of their former houses and remain stranded in this refugee camp outside Kobani, which hosts 50 families. "I'd be more than happy if I could just get the money to rebuild a room for my family," admits Idris Sheikh, a father of ten
The YPG has been a key U.S. ally in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria, but Ankara brands them "terrorists", viewing them as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has fought a bloody insurgency inside Turkey for 35 years.
Turkey has called for the safe zone to be 30 kilometres wide – a demand reiterated by Defence Minister Hulusi Akar on Monday.
"We have said on every occasion that we need a width of 30 to 40 kilometres," Akar told state-run TRT television.
The Kurds have agreed to a buffer zone, but have requested it to be five kilometres wide, a proposal rejected by Turkey.
While fighting IS, the Kurds have taken advantage of the Syrian war to set up an autonomous region in the northeast. But as the fight against IS winds down in the region, the prospect of a U.S. military withdrawal has stoked Kurdish fears of a long threatened Turkish attack.
Turkey has already carried out two cross-border offensives into Syria in 2016 and 2018, the second of which saw it and allied Syrian rebels overrun the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in the northwest. (AFP)