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France says it won't act outside of military coalition in northern Syria

AFP | File photo of fighters of the Free Syrian Army firing an anti-aircraft weapon in Aleppo on December 12, 2016.

France does not anticipate launching any military operations in northern Syria that fall outside the international coalition’s fight against Islamic State, a French presidency source said on Friday.


The official’s remarks came a day after the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces said President Emmanuel Macron’s pledge of support to stabilise the region against Islamic State would include more troops.

Shortly before the Elysée official spoke, Turkey’s deputy prime minister said France’s offer of support for the Kurdish YPG militants, who form the largest contingent within the Syrian Democratic Forces, amounted to support for terrorists.

Turkey was also angry about Macron’s offer to mediate between Turkey and Syrian rebels, including Kurdish fighters. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan refused the offer, accusing Macron on Friday of overstepping "his limits" and going "over his head."

Emmanuel Macron had been criticized at home over his response to a Turkish military operation against YPG militants.

The group makes up a large portion of the SDF, which have been at the forefront of the U.S.-led coalition's strategy to defeat the hard-line militants.

Macron met Thursday for the first time with a delegation that included the YPG, which Turkey is trying to sweep away from its border, its political arm the PYD, and Christian and Arab officials.

"The president ... paid tribute to the sacrifices and the determining role of the SDF in the fight against Daesh," Macron's office said in a statement on Thursday. "He assured the SDF of France's support for the stabilization of the security zone in the north-east of Syria, within the framework of an inclusive and balanced governance, to prevent any resurgence of Islamic State."

Former president François Hollande, who originally approved French support for the Kurds, bemoaned on March 23 Macron's Syria policy, in particular his attitude to the YPG, accusing him of abandoning them.

Ankara considers the YPG to be an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the state within Turkey.

France, like the United States, has extended arms and training to the YPG-led militia in the fight against Islamic State, and has dozens of special forces based in the region, which has infuriated Turkey.

Turkey stormed the northern Syrian town of Afrin last week, and has repeatedly threatened to push its operations further east to Manbij where U.S. troops are stationed.

Speaking to Reuters after the meeting with Macron, Khaled Eissa, a PYD member who represents the northern Syria region in Paris, said Macron had promised to send more troops to the area, provide humanitarian assistance and push a diplomatic solution.

"There will be reinforcements to help secure from attacks by Islamic State and stop a foreign aggression," he said, referring to Turkey. "It's message that this irresponsible action from the Islamists in Ankara stops."

The French presidency declined to comment on whether Paris was sending troops.

However, it said in the statement that Macron was offering to mediate between the two sides given that the SDF had distanced itself from the PKK.

"Acknowledging the commitment of the SDF to have no operational link with this terrorist group ... he (Macron) hopes that a dialogue could be established between the FDS and Turkey with France and the international community's help," it said.

Macron spoke with U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday about the situation in northern Syria.


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