Syrian rebel groups could help Turkey with 'safe zone'

In this image taken from social media, an ISIS fighter holds the group's flag as he stands on a tank.

Story highlights

  • Syrian rebel groups announce maneuvers near Turkish border
  • Maneuvers may help Turkey establish so-called "safe zone" along Syrian border

Gaziantep, Turkey (CNN)Two Syrian rebel groups made statements this week that that may help pave the way for a pro-Turkey military alliance to hold the area.

The Turkish national government has expressed plans for a so-called "safe zone" in the region -- a vaguely defined strip along Syria's border with Turkey that spans from ISIS-controlled territory to where one of the groups, the al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, has established firm control north of the Syrian city of Aleppo.
The Nusra Front said it will withdraw from the proposed "safe zone" area because they viewed the zone as an effort to assist Turkey's national security, which they did not want to do, the group said in a statement.
    A second rebel militant group, the more moderate Ahrar Al Sham, said it would support the "safe zone" as part of its efforts to assist Syrian Sunnis and overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
    Their statement did not specifically say they would move into the area, but appealed for rebel groups to help the Turkish plan. Ahrar is considered sympathetic to Turkish authorities.
    Ahrar Al Sham said it "supports the safe zone project in northern Syria with Turkish support and battlefield and political coordination between the revolutionary factions, and considers it vital to improve the humanitarian situation of the citizens in northern Syria and to the return of large groups of refugees and thwarting the enemies of the revolution."
    A senior Obama administration official told CNN last month that Turkey's goal was to "establish an ISIL-free zone and ensure greater security and stability along Turkey's border with Syria." (ISIL -- the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant -- is used by some entities, including the U.S. government, to refer to ISIS.)
    The moves come as Turkey grapples with violence near its southern border with Syria. ISIS is to blame, according to many experts, for a July 20 suicide blast that killed more than 30 people in Suruc, a Turkish city on the Syrian border.
    A senior Syrian opposition official told CNN in July that in order for Turkey to support a "safe zone," the nation would have to cooperate with multiple Syrian opposition groups.
    The United States is currently training and equipping moderate rebels in Syria, but that program may be up in the air due to concerns over a recent al Qaeda attack on a small group of the first trained and equipped rebels in northern Syria.
    More than 220,000 people have been killed in Syria since an uprising in March 2011 spiraled into civil war.