The Latest: Turkish president visits Syrian border

AP News
Posted: Jan 25, 2018 10:58 AM

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — The Latest on developments related to Syria (all times local):

7 p.m.

Turkish officials say President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has traveled to Turkey's border with Syria, where he is being briefed on Turkey's military offensive against the Syrian Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin.

Officials from Erdogan's office said Thursday the Turkish leader is visiting the command center overseeing the offensive, codenamed "Olive Branch," in Hatay province.

Erdogan was accompanied by Turkey's chief of military staff, the defense minister and other top officers, the officials said. They provided the information on condition of anonymity, in line with government rules.

Turkey launched the offensive on Jan. 20 to drive out Syrian Kurdish fighters it regards as a security threat because of their affiliation with outlawed Kurdish rebels in Turkey.

— Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey


4:50 p.m.

Turkey's foreign minister says U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson raised the possibility of the creation of a 30-kilometer-deep "safe zone" in Syria running along Turkey's border, during their meeting in Paris earlier this week, to help address Turkey's security concerns.

Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters on Thursday that, however, trust between Ankara and Washington has to be restored before Turkey would be prepared to begin discussing the issue.

He said Turkey and the United States may have differing "understandings and expectations" as to what a safe zone would entail.

Cavusoglu spoke during a joint news conference with the visiting Austrian foreign minister in Istanbul.

He says: "We would need to restore trust before we can even discuss a serious issue such as forming a safe zone with the United States, let alone accept it."

In Davos, Tillerson was asked if he had proposed a safe zone to Cavusoglu.

Tillerson says: "No, we discussed a number of possible options but we didn't propose anything."

Cavusoglu reiterated that a White House readout about a telephone conversation between Turkey's Erdogan and President Donald Trump was not an accurate account of the call.

The foreign minister said the readout may have been drafted before the conversation took place.


2:20 p.m.

A Syria war monitoring group says Islamic State militants are waging an intense attack on Syrian government troops stationed in the eastern Deir el-Zour province.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Thursday the offensive extends over several kilometers along the western banks of the Euphrates river in the eastern province, killing over a dozen government fighters and allied militia.

State media reported the attack, saying it has repelled the advancing militants. IS itself announced on its social media accounts it is launching a wide offensive against government troops stationed near Boukamal, a border town in Deir el-Zour.

The militant group has suffered major territorial losses amid separate but simultaneous military campaigns by the Russia-backed Syrian government and the U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces in eastern and northern Syria.


11:45 a.m.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim says his government won't allow the creation of a "terrorist" entity along Turkey's borders, in further comments suggesting that Turkey could expand an offensive in the Syrian enclave of Afrin to other areas.

In a speech in Ankara on Thursday Yildirim again slammed the United States for backing the Syrian Kurdish militia force instead of standing by a NATO ally. Turkey regards the militia as an extension of outlawed Kurdish rebels fighting Turkey.

Yildirim said: "It is astounding and unacceptable ... that a country which is supposed to protect NATO's borders is giving open support to armed entities that target our borders."

Yildirim said as many as 300 militants have been "neutralized" — killed, injured or taken captive — so far in the Afrin offensive.


9:25 a.m.

Turkish officials are disputing a White House readout of U.S. President Donald Trump's phone call with Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying it does not "accurately reflect" the content of their discussions.

The officials said Thursday that contrary to a White House statement, Trump did not voice "concerns (about) escalating violence" over Turkey's cross-border operation against the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northern Syria.

The officials said Trump did not use the phrase "destructive and false rhetoric coming from Turkey" in reference to anti-U.S. statements by Turkish government officials.

They also said that during Wednesday's call, Trump assured Turkey that the U.S. would no longer supply Syrian Kurdish militia with weapons. Turkey considers the group as "terrorists."

The officials provided the information on condition of anonymity in line with government rules.