Turkish and U.S. troops must immediately withdraw from Syria or face countermeasures by the Syrian government forces, the country’s foreign minister said on Saturday.
Any foreign forces operating in Syria without authorization are occupying forces and must withdraw immediately, Reuters quoted Walid al-Moualem as saying during an address to the annual United Nations world leaders gathering in New York.
Turkey has vowed to launched cross-border operations into northern Syria against the Kurdish U.S.-backed People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters, which Ankara says is an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group that has been in war in Turkey for over 30 years, and therefore poses an existential threat.
Turkey backs some, but not all, rebel groups in neighbouring Syria and has forces in the country’s northwestern province of Idlib as part of last year’s agreement with Russia.
The United States has around 1,000 troops in Syria fighting against the Islamic State (ISIS) militants.
“Any foreign forces operating in our territories without our authorization are occupying forces and must withdraw immediately,” al-Moualem said.
“If they refuse, we have the right to take any and all countermeasures authorized under international law.”
Al-Moualem also described U.S. and Turkish efforts to create a “safe zone” inside Syria as a violation of the U.N. Charter.
Washington and Ankara last month agreed to set up what a safe zone in northern Syria and remove Syrian Kurdish force the area. However, the NATO allies have been unable to agree on the details of the envisaged zone. Turkey wants a safe zone at least 30 km deep with Turkish forces in full control, while the United States favours a 10 km-deep area with no permanent Turkish troop presence.
Turkey has also said it plans to build homes to settle up to 3 million Syrian refugees in the zone.
The Syrian foreign minister vowed to “continue our war against terrorism in all its forms until rooting out the last remaining terrorist.”
What began as a peaceful uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad in 2011 become a full-scale civil war. Around 511,000 have been killed since the start of the war in Syria, according to March 2018 statistics by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a monitoring group based in the UK. Approximately 6.6 million have been displaced internally and 5.6 million around the world, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).