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Turkey's push for ground offensive in Syria receives little support

ANKARA, Feb. 17 (Xinhua) -- Having ruled out a unilateral intervention into Syria, the Turkish government is now seeking to enlist willing partners to join a ground offensive to stop five-year old conflict in its Arab neighbor.

Yet, Ankara has received a cold response from the U.S., its major NATO ally, on Tuesday with State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark C. Toner saying "there's no plans to put ground troops, at least on the part of the U.S., into Syria."

With the exception of regional allies such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, no other country including NATO members has expressed any desire to push for war in Syria.

Most are concerned that further entanglement in Syria may worsen the conflict that has a potential to escalate into a regional and even global war.

Turkey's major opposition political parties have all said they are very much opposed to the nation being dragged to the war in Syria.

According to Turkish analyst Cengiz Aktar, who is critical of the government's current policy on Syria, Turkey is "not only hurting itself but also its Western allies, as well as the very future of Syria."

Ankara's lobbying for ground incursion into Syria came on the heels of the recent alliance between Turkey and Saudi Arabia as announced by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu over the weekend.

However, Cavusoglu later said that a ground offensive from only Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar is "neither right nor realistic."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's office said the president and Saudi King Salman spoke by phone on Tuesday night to discus events in Syria.

Ankara has also renewed calls for setting up a no-fly zone and a safe zone for rebels and refugees in the north of Syria.

Erdogan said on Wednesday that a no-fly would have prevented Russia's air campaign in the region and thwarted thousands of civilian deaths.

The proposal does not have the backing of most NATO allies. Only Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday that a kind of no fly zone from Aleppo to Turkish border can be good to protect civilians.

Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan proposed a different idea on Wednesday, asking for a secure strip, including Azaz, which would be 10 kilometers deep in the north of Syria. "This zone should be free from clashes," he suggested.

Ankara has been increasingly frustrated with recent gains in northern Syria by the government forces and a Kurdish militia of the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

For the fifth day, the Turkish army has been shelling the positions of Syrian People's Protection Units (YPG) targets, the military wing of the PYD, which is the Syrian affiliate of the outlawed Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK).

Despite shelling and warnings from Turkey, the YPG continued its advance and captured several places including the border town of Tel Rifaat.

The PYD has the backing of the Syrian government, Russia and the U.S.

"As far as Turkey's national interest in Syria is concerned, things went from bad to worse after Moscow's military intervention in the conflict," Omer Taspinar, a Turkish expert at Brookings Institute, said.

As the YPG eyes to take over Azaz, a critical town held by rebels, Turkey is alarmed that a supply line to Aleppo, a major rebel holdout, would be cut-off.

Ankara is uneasy over the prospect of emerging an autonomous Kurdish region on its border with Syria, fearing that it may lead an independent Kurdish state by carving out territories from countries in the region including Turkey.

Erdogan lashed out at the U.S. on Wednesday for supporting the PYD, saying that the U.S. should decide whether to back Turkey or the Kurdish militants.

"Today our rules of engagement may be just about responding to an armed attack against our country, but tomorrow if necessary those rules can be expanded to cover every threat," he told the district governors in Ankara.

Washington has repeatedly said it does not see the PYD as a terrorist group and underlined it will continue working with the PYD against Islamic State (IS).

Yasar Yakis, former foreign minister of Turkey, said the problem lies with the growing differences on how Turkey and the U.S. see moderate opposition forces in Syria.

"This difference came further to the fore when Turkey failed to meet U.S. expectations in doing all it could to prevent IS fighters from using Turkey as a gateway to Syria," he explained.

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