ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The United Arab Emirates' Minister of State for Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday that his government rejects Turkish plans to establish a buffer zone in northeast Syria aimed at isolating the nation's Kurds and that Ankara's repeated threats to do so "worry" both Abu Dhabi and Washington.
Turkey says it is preparing to set up a 32-kilometer-deep safe zone along its southern border inside Syria, a move Ankara says will pave the way for the return of four million Syrian refugees to their country.
Ankara also claims to be protecting their lands from “terrorists,” the term it commonly uses to refer to the US-backed Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which they see as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Ankara, Washington, and the EU have designated the PKK as a terror group.
“We have great sympathy for the Kurds… also for the Kurds in Iraq,” said Anwar Gargash, the UAE minister, in an interview with US-supported Alhurra television on Wednesday.
He added that Kurdish fighters in Syria “did well” in the fight against the Islamic State and made “great sacrifices” in the conflict.
“In this sense, I think protecting the Kurds within a unified Syria is our declared position.”
This is not the first time the minister has expressed support for Syria’s Kurds. His country’s diplomatic ties to Turkey significantly deteriorated in 2017 after Abu Dhabi publicly accused Ankara of “colonial” ambitions in Syria.
In mid-January, Gargash stated that the regional and international community should be “concerned” about the fate of Syria’s Kurds, stressing the need to maintain the “territorial integrity” of the country. During his recent interview, Gargash also said that Turkish threats to Kurdish fighters “worry” the UAE and the US.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a multi-ethnic armed group dominated by the Kurdish YPG, played a major part in clearing Islamic State militants from vast territories in the country.
Anti-ISIS operations conducted by the SDF were put on hold multiple times as Turkey, along with Syrian militias it backed, took over the Afrin Canton in early 2018 and later shelled other areas under YPG control.
Gargash said that “clear steps must be taken to protect those who fought on the ground against Da’esh [Islamic State] and sacrificed” after the announced US withdrawal would take place, claiming they would ensure that “Turks won’t slaughter Kurds.”
“Any intervention of non-Arabs in Arab lands, we consider to be negative,” the Emirati minister said, though the phrase "non-local" might be more appropriate since multiple groups living in the areas in question, Kurds prominent among them, are not ethnically Arab.
“This is our position on the presence of Turkish troops in northern Iraq, and this was our position on the Iranian military presence in Iraq and in Syria.”
Editing by John J. Catherine