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Turkey and US ready for Syria safe-zone operations

First helicopters to begin patrols in northeastern Syria, with joint operations centre based in Turkey
Turkey has been trying to push Kurdish YPG fighters away from its borders (Reuters)

A joint Turkish-US operation centre to establish and manage a safe zone in northeast Syria is fully operational, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar was quoted as saying on Saturday by state-run Anadolu news agency.

Turkey and the United States agreed to set up the joint operations centre for the proposed zone along Syria's northeastern border but gave few details, such as the size of the zone or the command structure of the forces that would operate there.

Turkey had threatened to invade the area to clear it of fighters from the Kurdish People's Protection Units militia (YPG). 

"The joint operation centre has started working at full capacity. The command of the centre is by one US general and one Turkish general," Akar was quoted as saying.

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Akar added that the first joint helicopter flight was due to take place on Saturday after Turkish drones carried out surveillance work in the safe zone area last week.

Washington and Ankara have been at odds over plans for northeastern Syria, where the YPG formed the main part of a US-backed force fighting Islamic State. Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist group. 

The safe zone's operation centre will be based in Turkey, but Middle East Eye reported this week that it will be coordinated and managed by both countries.

Speaking at a news conference in Ankara on Wednesday alongside his Ukrainian counterpart, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that talks with the US had progressed in a "really positive" direction.

The process regarding the safe zone would begin with the operation centre being formed, he said, as reported by Reuters.

"What really mattered here was the issue of this step being taken on the east of the Euphrates, and this is now being realised together with the Americans," Erdogan said.

The US and Turkey have been at odds for months over the creation of a safe zone, with the latter unhappy at the YPG presence near the border.

The group has fought alongside US forces against the Islamic State militants, but is seen in Ankara as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), who have fought a decades-long guerilla war with Turkey.