Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has renewed his call for the establishment of a “safe zone” in northern Syria, an area he says should be free from terrorists and should include a “no-fly zone.”
Erdogan said in a televised speech in Bahrain on Monday that Turkey seeks to set up the safe zone in thousands of square kilometers in northern Syria where the Turkish army has a military presence.
“Our objective here is (to establish) an area of at least 4,000, 5,000 square kilometers free from terrorism, to create a safe zone,” Erdogan said, echoing similar remarks in the past that the zone would alleviate the burden of accommodating Syrian refugees. The Turkish president added that the area would also require a "no-fly" zone.
Ankara began its unauthorized military operation in northern Syria in August 2016, claiming that it was aimed at supporting the militants in northern Syria in the drive against Daesh terrorists. The Turkish military and allied militants managed to seize control of the city of Jarablus in early weeks of the operation and the battle continues now to retake the town of al-Bab from Daesh.
Erdogan said Sunday that the full recapture of al-Bab was now a "matter of time." Reports said Turkish troops and allied militants had reached the center of the town and they were pushing ahead into other neighborhoods. Turkey has suffered an unknown number of casualties in the operation in al-Bab over the past weeks.
Erdogan repeated earlier statements that after retaking al-Bab, Turkish forces would move toward Manbij, a Kurdish-dominated city which is under control of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), a militant group backed by the United States.
The Turkish president said after Manbij, the next station would be Raqqah, the de facto capital of Daesh.
Erdogan reiterated that Turkey would contribute to the long-anticipated operation for retaking Raqqah if “we take a joint step with (US-led) coalition forces.”
Turkey’s calls for setting up a safe zone in northern Syria comes more than two weeks after reports said that Washington was working on a plan to create a number of safe zones in the Arab country. Turkey greeted the news cautiously and officials said that they would watch the plan closely.
The US has promoted the creation of safe zones, claiming they would aim at easing pressure on Turkey which is housing 2.7 million Syrian refugees. However, the Pentagon has yet to announce whether the plan would include creating a no-fly zone.
Russia, which supports the Syrian government in its anti-terrorism drive, has viewed the US plans suspiciously, calling on Washington to present more details.
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