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U.S. delegation in southern Turkey for work on centre to oversee Syria safe zone - officials

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By Reuters
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ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A U.S. delegation has arrived in Turkey’s southern province of Sanliurfa to start work on the establishment of a joint operations centre to coordinate a planned safe zone in neighbouring Syria, Turkish authorities said on Monday.

The two NATO allies agreed in talks last week to establish the centre that would manage the zone in northern Syria though no agreement has been announced on key details of the zone, including the size of the area in question and the command structure of joint patrols that would be conducted there.

There has been cautious progress on the centre despite other disputes straining bilateral relations, including Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defence system, as well as trials of local U.S. consulate employees in Turkey on terrorism charges.

Work to establish the centre has begun and it is expected to become active in coming days, the Turkish Defence Ministry said on Twitter. “Within this context, a six-person U.S. delegation has arrived in Sanliurfa with the purpose of preliminary preparation,” it said.

Washington and Ankara have been at odds over plans for northeastern Syria, where U.S. allies on the ground in the battle against Islamic State include the Kurdish YPG militia, which Turkey considers an enemy and a terrorist group.

The allies have been discussing a safe zone near the Turkish frontier that would be kept free of combatants and heavy weapons, but Turkey wants it to extend more than twice as far into Syrian territory as the United States has proposed.

Turkey has suggested it will act militarily if the United States fails to agree a solution that will safeguard the border.

Turkey says the YPG is an extension in Syria of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since the 1980s.

(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Mark Heinrich)