Allies consider ‘buffer zone’ inside Syria

US and UK top diplomats to look closely at idea of “safe haven” for refugees, but White House and Pentagon deny report.

The US and UK have said they are willing to examine the possibility of creating a “buffer zone” between Syria and Turkey as ISIL continues its assault on the border town of Kobane.

“The buffer zone… is an idea that’s out there, it’s worth examining, it’s  worth looking at very, very closely,” said the US secretary of state, John Kerry, in a Wednesday statement.

Kerry said the millions of refugees who had fled Syria “should not be a problem which is thrust onto Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, where they bear an incredible burden”.

“If Syrian citizens can return to Syria and be protected in an area across the border, there’s a lot that would commend that. You’d have to guarantee safety, that there wouldn’t be attacks by the government… so it needs a thorough examination. We’re all in favour of looking at this very closely.”

In response to Kerry’s statement, the White House and US defence department said that while a buffer zone was not one of the military options under consideration, it was a subject of discussions with Ankara.

President Barack Obama’s spokesman, Josh Earnest, said “it’s not something that is under consideration right now”, while Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said the buffer zone is “a topic of continued discussions”.

The British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, also said the UK was looking at how the concept would work. The idea, first suggested by the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was also supported by France.

In three years of war, the US has consistently ruled out establishing a safe haven to protect fleeing Syrians, saying a no-fly zone would be too complicated to set up and patrol. It has also said it will not commit ground troops to the conflict.

The statements came as US-led forces targeted ISIL fighters near Kobane, carrying out air strikes to help Kurdish fighters defending the Syrian border town of Kobane on Wednesday.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the US-led strikes have killed at least 45 fighters since late Monday, forcing them to partially withdraw.

The activist group said Wednesday’s strikes targeted ISIL fighters east of Kobane and them to withdraw from several streets they had controlled earlier.

Heavy gunfire was heard from inside the town in a sign of fresh clashes on Wednesday. The SOHR said most of the fighting was in the town’s Kani Arban area.

Kobane has been under the onslaught of the ISIL group since mid-September, bringing Syria’s civil war yet again to Turkey’s doorstep.

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The fighting has forced about 200,000 people to flee and seek shelter in Turkey, adding to the millions of other refugees in countries neighbouring Syria. Activists also say that more than 400 people have been killed in the fighting.

John Kirby, the spokesman for the US defence department, said on Wednesday that the US air campaign was not enough to defeat ISIL.

“Air strikes alone are not going to do this, not going to fix this, not going to save the town of Kobane,” Kirby said, adding: “We do not have a willing, capable, effective partner on the ground inside Syria right now. It’s just a fact.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies