"Turkey is determined to actively initiate the formation of a safe zone in Syria along the eastern line of the Euphrates River in its own way by the last week of September," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
Turkey will start to apply its own plan of action by the end of September to establish a safe zone in northern Syria, east of the Euphrates River, Turkey’s president said Thursday.
"Turkey is determined to actively initiate formation of a safe zone in Syria along the eastern line of the Euphrates River in its own way by the last week of September," Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a meeting of provincial heads of his ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party in the capital Ankara.
Turkish and US military officials reached an agreement on August 7 that a planned safe zone in northern Syria will serve as a "peace corridor" for displaced Syrians wanting to return home and that a Joint Operations Center in Turkey will be set up to coordinate its establishment.
Tensions over the Eastern Mediterranean Sea
Erdogan also reiterated Turkey’s determination to continue its energy exploration activities in the Eastern Mediterranean.
“No one can try to deprive us of the rights we have in the Eastern Mediterranean. We will champion our rights through the last,” said Erdogan.
“The threat of sanctions on our country does not scare us, does not make us retreat, on the contrary only strengthens our determination to go our way,” he added.
The EU in July announced sanctions on Turkey over its energy exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean, including the suspension of high-level talks. Turkey condemned the move, saying sanctions will not deter its lawful activities.
Turkey has long contested the Greek Cypriot administration’s unilateral drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) also has rights to the resources in the area.
Since this spring, Ankara has sent drilling vessels to the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting the right of Turkey and the TRNC to the resources of the region.
Not enough support on refugees
Turning to the issue of Syrian refugees, Erdogan stressed that Turkey has not gotten the support it needs, especially from the EU, on sharing the refugee burden.
“We may have to let them cross into Europe to get support,” Erdogan added.
Turkey has long complained that the EU failed to keep its promises of monetary support under a 2016 deal to stem the tide of refugees.
Erdogan added that Turkey aims to settle at least 1 million of the Syrians it took in since 2011 in its planned safe zone along Turkey’s border with Syria, he added.
Turkey currently hosts some 3.6 million Syrian refugees, more than any other country in the world, but has also helped Syrians voluntarily resettle in areas made safe by the Turkish military.
Turkey has stressed that clearing the area of the terrorist PKK/YPG is a necessary condition for the safe zone.
In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK – listed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the US and the EU – has been responsible for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people, including many women, children, and infants. The YPG is the Syrian branch of the PKK terrorist group.
Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011, when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.