Assad quietly aids Kurds as Afrin mess drags on

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Further Iranian movement near Israel's borders could trigger a direct confrontation with both Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah, which would likely spark another regional war into which the USA would be drawn. And Erdogan's angry comments — including a warning that Turkey's foes may feel "the Ottoman slap", a reference to the Ottoman Empire's onetime might — set the stage for contentious talks to come when Tillerson visits Ankara later this week.

In a new twist, the Assad regime, which like Turkey lives in constant friction with the independence-minded Kurds, has apparently offered quiet support for its erstwhile foes, allowing Kurdish forces to traverse regime-controlled territory to reinforce fighters in the northwest. "I am calling on the people of the United States, this money is coming out of the budget of the United States, it is coming out of people's pockets", said Erdogan.

In the meantime, Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation member since 1952, seems to be straining its relations with other allies.

Speaking in Kuwait, as part of his five-nation tour of the Middle East, Washington's top diplomat said that despite recent military victories the coalition fighting the militant group must make sure ISIL does not spread from its bases in Syria and Iraq.

"It's obvious that those who say, 'If you hit us, we'll hit back hard, ' have never in their lives gotten an Ottoman slap", President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech at parliament on Tuesday, responding to remarks by the top USA commander in Syria to the New York Times. "Only by being a factor on the ground will Washington be taken seriously as it seeks the implementation of a United Nations peace plan for Syria-a road map calling for nationwide democratic elections-that Russian Federation and the regime of Bashar al-Assad are trying to bury". It is the latest effort by Turkey to limit Kurdish expansion along its border with Syria and aims to drive out the militia known as the People's Protection Units, or YPG, which Turkey considers to be a "terrorist" organization.

Tillerson, meanwhile, appealed for coalition members not to lose sight of their ultimate goal in Iraq and Syria at a critical moment with the mission shifting from offensive military operations to stabilization.

The imperative to defeat that group temporarily made the other conflicts a lesser priority for numerous actors involved; the USA, its allies, and its adversaries all turned much of their firepower on the Islamic State.

"He called for a renewed focus on the campaign to defeat ISIS, and to preventing any vestige of the terrorist organization from reconstituting in Syria", the statement said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

Turkey's hardly the only distraction.

For far too long Syria has been enduring a civil war that seems to have no end.

43 terrorists "neutralized" in overnight airstrikes, Turkish military says. Saudi Arabia and regional rival Iran are fighting proxy battles in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and elsewhere. "They want to kick out the Kurds", she says. "Our demands from the United States are clear and have already been conveyed. We will defend ourselves", said Funk to the New York Times.

Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in Istanbul that USA forces are leaving "pockets" with IS militants intact to justify continued cooperation with the Kurdish militia.

"I think in terms of this observation that the USA has little leverage or role to play is simply false", Tillerson said at a briefing Tuesday, according to Bloomberg.

"We don't bypass ISIS", Mattis said.

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