ANKARA: Turkey outlined on Monday its plans for a 120km “safe zone” in Syria on the eve of a key withdrawal deadline, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the West of “standing by terrorists”.

A Turkish military source said Kurdish fighters should initially withdraw from the area between Tal Abyad, captured by Turkish forces at the start of the offensive, and Ras al-Ain, under a US-brokered agreement that expires Tuesday night.

Turkey has warned that if this does not happen it will resume its offensive against the Syrian Kurdish YPG mili­­tia, which it began after the US announced it was pulling out troops from the area.

Although President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly said Turkey wants a “safe zone” that is 444kms long, the first stage of the plans will only cover a quarter of the distance.

An agreement between the Syrian regime and the Kurdish forces to allow Damascus’ troops into certain parts of northern Syria appears to have thwarted Ankara’s plans for a larger “safe zone”.

“We are following the 120 kilometres first,” the source said on Monday.

The source added that the “safe zone” would then be extended to 444 kilometres stretching up to the Iraqi border.

Turkey on Oct 9 launched a cross-border offensive sup­­porting Syrian rebel groups against the YPG, viewed by Ankara as “terrorists” lin­k­­ed to the outlawed Kurd­istan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Erdogan accused Wes­tern countries on Monday of “standing by terrorists” in failing to support Turkey’s operation.

“Can you imagine the whole West stood by the terrorists and all attacked us including Nato member states and European Union countries?” he said.

The source on Monday said the deal would run out at 10pm on Tues­­day, vowing that Anka­ra would crack down on “any terrorists left” in the area after the deadline expires.

Published in Dawn, October 22nd, 2019