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Turkey proposes 'secure strip' inside Syria to protect border and refugees

As Syrian Kurdish forces advance on the Turkish border, Ankara has called for a 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) safe area inside Syria. With dominance over Syria's skies, Russia has come out against the idea.

In an interview on Wednesday, Turkey's deputy prime minister, Yalcin Akdogan, told A Haber television that the safe zone inside Syria should be "free from clashes." Akdogan did not elaborate further on its dimensions or how it could be created.

Turkey, which is currently home to more than 2.6 million Syrian refugees, has long called for a safe zone, backed up by a no-fly zone, to protect its borders and provide protection for displaced civilians on Syrian soil. Several camps have also been set up inside Syria near Azaz.

'Threat' from Kurdish forces

Alarmed by the

advance of Syrian Kurdish forces in Aleppo province

near the border, Turkey has repeatedly fired artillery at their positions in recent days, defying international calls for Ankara to show restraint.

Turkish officials claim that the shelling is in response to incoming fire from the Kurdish positions, although the validity of these claims in unclear. Ankara sees the Kurdish YPG units as an extension of the PKK, which has fought a more than three-decade long insurgency for greater rights and autonomy for Turkey's Kurds.

The Turkish

shelling has further complicated an already combustible situation in northern Aleppo

province.

Backed by

some of the heaviest Russian bombing

since Moscow intervened in September, Syrian regime forces and allied Shiite militia have nearly encircled Aleppo city and cut off rebel supply lines running north to Turkey.

The shifting tide of the war in favor of the Assad regime and possible collapse of the armed opposition in the northern Aleppo countryside has changed the trajectory of the war and upended Turkey's Syria policy.

The Russian bombing campaign and regime offensive have also sent waves of refugees streaming to the Turkish border, exacerbating an already dire humanitarian situation.

Merkel: safe zone 'helpful'

Ankara's proposed "safe zone" has yet to garner any real support from Washington or NATO allies who fear it would require an internationally patrolled no-fly zone and potentially put them in direct confrontation with Assad and his allies.

In an interview in Tuesday's edition of the German daily, "Stuttgarter Zeitung," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, however, that such a "safe zone" would be "helpful in the current situation."

Merkel reiterated that position again on Wednesday, saying at a news conference that there should be an agreement between Assad, his backers and the coalition against the "Islamic State" to establish "a kind of no-fly zone in which there is no bombing, in which civilians are not pressured and killed" in an area inside Syria along the Turkish border.

Responding to Merkel's comments on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said: "This is not Merkel's initiative, this is a Turkish initiative."

Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov argued that any decision to create a no-fly zone over Syria cannot be made without the approval of the government in Damascus as well as the UN Security Council.

Aid trucks arrive

On Wednesday, a convoy of 35 trucks carrying humanitarian aid entered the besieged town of Moudamiya Al Sham, according to the Syrian state news agency and UN sources.

The rebel-held area on the outskirts of Damascus has been under siege since 2012 and is currently encircled by President Bashar al-Assad's forces, Muhannad al-Asadi of the Red Crescent told news agency AFP.

The humanitarian aid mission, which is being carried out by Syrian Arab Red Crescent and UN,

has been called a "test" of the prospective ceasefire

by Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy to Syria.

A total of 100 trucks carrying food and medical supplies are set to leave on Wednesday for five besieged Syrian towns.

ksb/kms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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