UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Syria’s top diplomat demanded Saturday the immediate withdrawal of American and Turkish forces from the country and said his government reserves the right to defend its territory in any way necessary if they remain.
“The United States and Turkey maintain an illegal military presence in northern Syria,” Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem told the U.N. General Assembly. “Any foreign forces operating in our territories without our authorization are occupying forces and should withdraw immediately.”
If they refuse, he said, “we have the right to take any and all countermeasures authorized under international law.”
There are around 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria on a mission to combat Islamic State group militants. The United States also backs and supports Kurdish groups in the northeast that are opposed to the Syrian government and have fought against Sunni extremist groups.
U.S. President Donald Trump had said he wants to bring the troops home, but military officials have advocated a phased approach.
Al-Moallem described Turkey and the United States as “arrogant to the point of holding discussions and reaching agreements on the creation of a so-called ‘safe zone’ inside Syria” as if it was on their own soil. He said any agreement without the consent of the Syrian government is rejected.
The deal between Washington and Turkey details an area five to 14 kilometers deep (three to eight miles), as well as removal of heavy weapons from a 20-kilometer-deep zone (12 miles) along Syria’s northeastern border with Turkey. The length of the zone has not yet been agreed to by both parties, but will likely stretch hundreds of kilometers.
For more than eight years, Syria’s devastating civil war has drawn numerous foreign militaries and thousands of foreign fighters battling for power. Millions of Syrians have fled the country, living as refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and other countries around the world. Hundreds of thousands have been killed.
Most of the country has now returned to government control. But rebels and extremists still hold Idlib in the northwest, and U.S-backed Kurdish groups hold the oil-rich northeast.