Two fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led rebel group, patrol in the streets of the recently liberated town of Hajin. Photo: Aboud Hamam/dpa

President Bashar al-Assad warned Syria’s Kurds Sunday that their ally Washington would not protect them against a Turkish offensive as the US looks to withdraw its forces.

The US is set to withdraw its troops from Syria after allied Kurdish-led forces capture the last ISIS holdout in the war-ravaged country.

Any withdrawal risks leaving the Kurds exposed to a long-threatened offensive by neighboring Turkey, which views Kurdish fighters as “terrorists.”

“We tell those groups who are betting on the Americans that the Americans will not protect you,” Assad said in a televised speech.

“The Americans do not hold you in their heart… They will put you in their pocket so you can be a bargaining chip.”

Apart from fighting ISIS, the Kurds have largely stayed out of Syria’s civil war, working towards semi-autonomy in the northeast of the country.

The looming prospect of a US withdrawal, announced in December, has sent them scrambling to rebuild ties with the Assad regime, but talks so far have failed to reach a compromise.

“If you don’t prepare yourselves to defend your country and resist, you will be nothing but a slave to the Ottomans,” Assad warned, using a historic term for Turks.

“No one will protect you except your state. No one will defend you except the Syrian Arab army,” he said.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which has fought ISIS with support from the US-led coalition since 2015, on Sunday met to discuss “the future of relations with the Syrian government.”

The SDF stressed the need for the Assad regime to recognize the “special status” of the Kurdish-Arab alliance, as well as the Kurdish semi-autonomous region.

In a statement, it also expressed a “willingness to solve problems with Turkey through dialogue,” based on “mutual respect.”

– with reporting by Agence France-Presse

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