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U.S. and SDF forces on patrol in Al-Darbasiyah, in northeastern Syria. Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images

The provisional agreement the U.S. and Turkey announced last week regarding security in northern Syria marks a positive step for the two NATO allies, whose priorities in the Syrian conflict have often diverged.

Why it matters: The proposed safe zone and guarantees to pull the U.S.–backed, Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces could help assuage Turkish concerns about a Kurdish insurgency while preserving the counter-ISIS campaign and critical stabilization efforts in northeastern Syria.

How it works: The deal would create a joint U.S.-Turkey military operations center in southern Turkey to potentially establish a buffer zone up to 18 miles into northern Syria, which could also facilitate the return of Syrian refugees.

The catch: The Syrian Democratic Forces sees Turkey and Turkish-backed Syrian rebels as existential threats and in the past year has made overtures to Russia and the Syrian government.

  • Without a clear and sustained deconfliction mechanism, Turkish incursions to preserve its own security interests could spark further clashes between two U.S. partners, opening a new front in the war.

Background: Turkey has long expressed national security concerns over the predominance of Kurdish elements in the SDF, which were trained by the U.S. to counter the Islamic State.

  • These troops are aligned with the Kurdistan Workers' Party insurgency that Turkey and its allies — including the U.S. — consider a terrorist group.
  • They aspire to create a Kurdish state, which would be unacceptable to Turkey as well as the parties to the Syrian conflict.

Between the lines: The population of more than 3.6 million Syria refugees hosted in Turkey — once embraced as "guests" by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party — have been tossed under the bus as the party's popular support has eroded.

  • Human rights groups have alleged forced deportations from Istanbul and reported on plans to relocate nearly 700,000 refugees into Turkish-controlled areas in Syria's north.
  • Those moves would form a demographic buffer between Turkey and Syrian Kurds, while appealing to widespread anti-refugee and anti-Kurdish sentiment.

What to watch: Without restraint by Turkey and long-term military assurances by the U.S., the SDF could be pushed to join the Russia-Syria-Iran axis or to seek reintegration with Syria, perhaps with a degree of Kurdish autonomy.

  • While Turkey’s brinkmanship may have paid off in securing U.S. support to smooth over tensions, northern Syria will continue to challenge a more circumscribed U.S. Middle East policy.

Adham Sahloul is a foreign policy analyst and former researcher at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

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At least 178 Palestinians have been injured in clashes with Israeli police in Jerusalem, Reuters reported late Friday.

The big picture: The clashes come amid growing anger over the threatened eviction of Palestinians from their homes on land claimed by Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem. Tensions have also escalated in the occupied West Bank in recent weeks.

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Ohio GOP censures Rep. Anthony Gonzalez over Trump impeachment vote

Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

The Ohio Republican Party on Friday censured Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) and called for him to resign for voting to impeach former President Trump in January, Reuters reports.

The big picture: Gonzalez is the latest Republican lawmaker to be punished for voting to impeach the former president on a charge of inciting the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection.