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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

France denies Syria troop increase amid tensions with Turkey

President Macron angers Ankara by meeting Syrian rebels, including Kurds, in Paris 

French President Emmanuel Macron, left, welcomes his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Elysee palace in Paris on January 5, 2018. Ludovic Marin / AFP
French President Emmanuel Macron, left, welcomes his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Elysee palace in Paris on January 5, 2018. Ludovic Marin / AFP

France on Friday denied claims of a military build-up against Turkish forces in Syria as it sought to calm tensions with Nato ally Turkey.

French President Emmanuel Macron angered Turkey by meeting Syrian rebels in Paris on Thursday, including Kurdish fighters that Turkey considers terrorists. Worsening matters, Mr Macron offered to mediate between them.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan angrily refused, accusing Mr Macron of overstepping "his limits" and going "over his head".

A French presidential official said the Turkish response was no surprise given the "sensitivities" around Kurdish separatist violence in Turkey.

Still, the official insisted that the Turkish offensive against opposition forces in north-west Syria "must stop." The official argued that the operation was jeopardising the broader US-led military campaign against ISIL.

After Mr Macron's meeting on Thursday with members of the Syrian Democratic Forces, Kurdish figures claimed that the French leader had promised to send troops to Manbij near Syria's border with Turkey.

The Kurdish-Arab town is under threat from a Turkish military operation in Syria that has already squeezed the rebels out of nearby towns. Turkey's military argues Manbij is controlled by Syrian Kurdish militiamen it views as an extension of Kurdish insurgents inside Turkey.

The Kurdish claim raised fears that France was ready for a military conflict with Turkey, a fellow Nato member.

The French presidential official denied any plans to send ground troops — or launch any operation outside the coalition's efforts against ISIL. He said Mr Macron only offered renewed political support for the Syrian Democratic Forces, promising to "continue this fight together".

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The official said France was re-evaluating needs in the fight against ISIL but had not received any requests so far from the US-led coalition for reinforcements in the area.

France has led air strikes on Syria as part of the anti-ISIL coalition and is believed to have special forces in Syria, but has not sent ground troops.

Mr Macron's office would not comment on the different interpretations of what happened at his meeting with the Syrian Democratic Forces.

In Turkey, Mr Erdogan did not directly address the threat of French military action but insisted that "we don't need a mediator" and warned Mr Macron "don't get into things that are out of your depth".

"Those who go to bed with terrorists, or even host them in their palaces, will sooner or later understand the mistake they're making," Mr Erdogan said in Ankara.

The Turkish leader said Mr Macron made "bizarre" comments during a phone conversation last week that forced him to raise his voice and respond with a "high frequency".

Mr Macron's office insisted it wants to maintain dialogue with Turkey.

The French president also pledged support in maintaining security in Turkey, and reiterated France's opposition to the Kurdish rebel group, PKK.

Turkish officials said the PKK killed six members of the security forces in the south-eastern province of Siirt on Friday.

Three other village guards and four soldiers were wounded while guarding a road construction, the provincial governor's office said.

The PKK has been waging an insurgency in the south-east since 1984 and is considered as a terrorist organisation by Ankara and its western allies.