Syrian Kurds 'plan major offensive to seal Turkish border'
Major plans to attack IS-held territory along the Syrian-Turkish border have been drawn up by the Kurdish People's Protection Units [YPG] and its local Syrian allies, according to reports on Thursday.
The US-backed YPG's planned offensive may crush IS militants' logistical supply routes - but risk a major escalation in tensions with Turkish authorities.
The YPG plan to cross the Euphrates River to attack IS-held towns of Jarabulus, Manbij and Azaz. A date has not yet been confirmed, although an unnamed YPG source told a Kurdish news site it may be launched as soon as this weekend.
Turkey, which views the YPG as an extension of the blacklisted separatist Kurdish rebel group, the Kurdistan Workers' Party [PKK], has long said it will not let the Syrian Kurds move west of the Euphrates.
In October, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu confirmed Ankara's army attacked YPG forces after they moved across the river.
"We said the [YPG-aligned Democratic Union Party] PYD will not go west of the Euphrates and that we would hit it the moment it did," Davutoglu said.
But for the YPG, taking control over the final stretch of land the IS militants hold along the Turkish border will be both a symbolic and strategic victory.
The US and Turkey have previously discussed a joint military operation to push IS away from border areas, but there has been no sign of these plans coming to fruition on the ground.
The YPG has had a vital role in the ground fight against IS and continues to be a key player within the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance formed last year that includes Arab and minority armed groups.
But the political party affiliated with the YPG, the Democratic Union Party [PYD], has been excluded from the Geneva Syria peace talks - at Turkey's insistence.
Turkey announced it strongly opposes the participation of Kurdish groups in the talks.
"We are categorically against the YPG and PYD sitting at the table," said Davutoglu.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also described the PYD as a "terrorist group" with no part to play at the negotiating table.
The PYD blames Turkey for their exclusion and said their absence would undermine the peace process.
Meanwhile, the UN-backed peace talks aimed at ending the Syrian conflict are set to kick off on Friday - despite opposition members saying they would not attend until conditions are met.