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Erdogan vows to establish Syria 'safe zone' as deadline with US ends

  • 1 Oct 2019

Turkey's President Erdogan says Ankara plans to settle 2 million Syrian refugees in "safe zone", which would run from Euphrates river in Syria to Iraqi border. But Western allies are yet to respond to Turkish calls for funds.

Turkey's President Erdogan tells parliament he's aware of economic, social and cultural challenges of hosting 3.6 million Syrians, adding Turkey is not intent on "hosting them forever." ( AA )

Turkey has not seen the developments it desires in efforts with the United States to form a "safe zone" in north-east Syria and has no choice but to go its own path, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday.

Speaking at the parliament's opening ceremony in Ankara, Erdogan said Turkey planned to settle two million people in the planned "safe zone," which he said would stretch east from the Euphrates river in Syria to the Iraqi border.

"We have no option left other than carrying out our own plan [Syria safe zone] in the east of Euphrates. We don't have the patience to wait even a day more," he said, adding preliminary efforts have been completed for locations and cost of refugees' resettlement in Syria "peace corridor."

"One hundred and forty villages and ten district centres will be established within the 30-40 kilometre deep safe zone in northern Syria, housing 5,000 and 30,000 inhabitants each," President Erdogan said.

Erdogan said he's aware of economic, social, and cultural challenges of hosting 3.6 million Syrians, adding Turkey is not intent on "hosting them forever".

Ankara and NATO ally Washington had agreed to establish a zone along 480 km of the Turkish border that Ankara wants to reach 30 km inside Syria. Turkey has repeatedly warned of unilateral military action if the efforts do not meet its expectations, and it set a September deadline which has expired.

"Turkey backs the territorial integrity of Syria and the political and administrative unity of Syrians," Erdogan said during his speech.

The only reason for Turkey's existence in Syria is the terror threat towards Turkey's borders, he said.

US dragging its feet 

Last week at the UN, Erdogan said under the Turkish plan, up to two million Syrian refugees could be settled in the safe zone with international support.

If implemented, the project could halve the number of Syrian refugees sheltering in Turkey from Syria's eight-year conflict, and drive the YPG, the Syrian affiliate of the terror group PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the US, and EU, from the border.

The United States agreed to the safe zone as a way to protect its militant allies in Syria and address Turkish concerns about the border, after President Donald Trump announced plans last year to abruptly withdraw 2,000 US special forces troops that helped YPG militants battle Daesh terrorists.

But the US troops have yet to leave and Washington and Ankara have so far failed to agree on details. 

Turkey has accused the United States of dragging its feet and warned that it would take matters into its own hands.

Turkish military operations

Turkey has already launched two military campaigns into northern Syria in the last three years and has stationed troops into the opposition and rebel-held Idlib region. It says preparations for another operation are complete.

On Monday, Turkey's National Security Council, which includes Turkey's political and military leadership said Turkey would strengthen efforts to set up the zone so that Syrian refugees could return as soon as possible.

Erdogan has also warned the European Union that Turkey, which has received billions of euros in return for choking off the flow of Syrian migrants into Europ e in 2016, could "open the gates" once again if it does not get more funding.

Ahead of his trip to the UN General Assembly, Erdogan said he would discuss his plans with Trump and EU leaders, but he returned last week apparently with no concrete promise.

"Turkey is not a country that can be stalled," he said on the plane home. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu echoed his message: "If we cannot find a way with the United States, we will clear out the terrorist organisation (ourselves)," he said, referring to the YPG militants.

US-Turkey disagreement 

US and Turkish troops have so far carried out half a dozen joint air missions over northeast Syria and two land patrols.

The NATO allies disagree over the depth of the zone and who should control it, while the US avoids even referring to a "safe zone", talking instead of a "security mechanism".

The US has warned Turkey that unilateral action would not serve any country's security.

At least 250,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict since it started in March 2011, according to official UN estimates, while others placed the death toll at over 470,000.

The conflict has also displaced around half of the country's population. Approximately 7 million have been internally displaced, while an estimated 5 million Syrians have sought refuge abroad.

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