Turkey in talks with Russia about using Syrian airspace in potential operation

Turkish Defence Minister Akar holds a news conference in Ankara

By Orhan Coskun

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey is in talks with Russia to use the airspace above northern Syria for a potential cross-border operation against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Saturday.

Turkey has carried out several incursions into northern Syria against the YPG and has been threatening a new incursion for months. It stepped up preparations last month after a deadly bomb attack in Istanbul it blamed on Kurdish militants.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group and the U.S.-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), spearheaded by the YPG, have denied involvement in the bombing of the busy pedestrian avenue.

Turkey launched air strikes against YPG targets in November and President Tayyip Erdogan signalled a possible ground offensive.

Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Akar said Ankara was in talks with Moscow, which supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces, about the operation.

"We are in talks and discussing with Russia about all issues including opening the airspace," he said.

Turkey sees the YPG militia, the leading presence in the SDF, as the Syrian wing of the PKK, which is considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Washington's support for the YPG in the fight against Islamic State has infuriated Ankara, causing a major rift between the NATO allies.

(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by David Holmes)