Turkey says US pinning Syria strategy on `small terror group`

Turkey`s powerful Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan on Tuesday criticised the United States over its Syria strategy.

Ankara: Turkey`s powerful Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan on Tuesday criticised the United States over its Syria strategy, charging that it was relying on Kurdish fighters he described as a "small terror organisation".

In an exclusive interview with AFP, Akdogan also rejected suggestions Ankara is preparing any unilateral military intervention to end the five-year war in Syria.

Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the People`s Protection Units (YPG) to be an affiliate of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers` Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

The issue has caused major tensions between Turkey and its NATO ally the United States, which has been cooperating with the YPG as the most effective fighting force on the ground against Islamic State (IS) jihadists.

Akdogan said the United States had to see that the PYD and YPG are "arm in arm" with Russia and the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

"I don`t believe it is a very correct approach for giant America to be relying on and hoping for help from a small terrorist organisation and staking its entire Syria approach on this," he said.

"YPG and PYD is part of the PKK. A change in the name does not change its nature. If you call an apple a pear, it is still an apple," he added. Alarmed by Kurdish militia forces` advance in northern Syria, Turkey last month shelled their positions in Syria, saying it was responding to incoming fire in line with its rules of engagement.

Ankara fears Kurdish fighters` advance in Aleppo province is intended to connect Kurdish-held areas in northern and northeastern Syria, creating an autonomous Kurdish region along its southern border.

"Turkey is in a position to protect its national security. Turkey`s national security does not start from its border gate," Akdogan told AFP in his offices in the Cankaya Palace in Ankara.

Turkey has said a partial ceasefire in place in Syria since Friday midnight should have excluded the Syrian Kurdish militia force.

"Turkey will activate its own rules of engagement and defend itself if a threat is directed against it," said Akdogan.

Russia, Turkey`s arch foe in Syria since the shooting down of a Russian war plane by Turkish jets on November 24, has raised alarm that Ankara was preparing a ground invasion -- an idea rubbished by Akdogan.

"Turkey will not launch a unilateral operation. Turkey is not a country to jump into an adventure. It is not a belligerent country."

He said a "comprehensive" step was needed by all allies that would fight not just IS but also the regime of Assad, which Ankara vehemently opposes.But Akdogan acknowledged Turkey was seeking to create an eight- to 10-kilometre (five- to six-mile) "humanitarian aid belt" between its border gate and the Syrian flashpoint town of Azaz to house refugees.

Turkey, now home to some 2.7 million Syrian refugees, has long pressed for a safe zone, backed up by a no-fly zone, to protect its borders and provide shelter for refugees on Syrian soil.

Thousands of refugees massed along the Turkish border after the regime`s offensive last month in northern Syria backed by Russia`s airstrikes.

Akdogan said Turkey`s "open-border" policy remained in place and an estimated 150,000 Syrians were housed in 10 camps on the Syrian side of the border.

Akdogan said Turkey was left alone to deal with the refugee problem and added that it was a contradiction for the European Union to tell Turkey to keep open its southern border but to shut the western border.

"We said if a new refugee wave emerges, it will also hit Europe," he said "Therefore it is essential that those people are sheltered on the other side of the border."

But Akdogan warned if conflicts and bombings continued and if a security risk emerged, from 150,000 to 800,000 Syrians might flock to Turkey.

Turkey last year concluded a deal with the EU to stem the flow of refugees in return for 3 billion euros but so far has yet to receive any of the money.

Akdogan said Turkey had presented the EU`s rotating presidency the Netherlands with a project package for Brussels to deliver some part of the package "without delay".

He said the issue would be discussed at an EU-Turkey summit meeting on Monday. "This needs to implemented urgently," he said.

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