Istanbul: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country is planning to form ‘safe zones’ in northern Syria so that Syrian refugees in Turkey can return to their home country.
Erdogan also stated that around 3,00,000 Syrians had already returned to areas in Northern Syria controlled by rebel groups backed by Turkey, adding that he expected millions more to return to the proposed safe zones, Al Jazeera reported.
Around four million Syrian refugees have sought shelter in Turkey.
US President Donald Trump had announced in December the withdrawal of 2,000 US troops in Syria, following which Erdogan said the two held talks over establishing a 32-km deep safe zone in Syria along the Turkish border.
On Friday, Erdogan had said he expected the safe zones to be set up within a few months, otherwise, it would form a ‘buffer zone’ without the help of other countries.
He said the zone will also help protect Turkey from “terrorists,” referring to the Kurdish militia backed by the US, which controls the areas in northeastern Syria along the Turkish border.
Turkey wants the zone to contain fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG), which the US has trained and armed to fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL or ISIS).
The YPG is considered by the US as an effective ground force in the fight against the ISIS, although Ankara says it is connected to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist group by both the US and Turkey.
The Turkish Foreign Minister on Thursday said that Turkey has the capacity to create the safe zones in Syria on its own, although, they could include Russia, the US, or others if they wanted to cooperate.
For the past few months, Turkey has threatened to mount offensives in northern Syria to flush out the US-backed Kurdish fighters. Turkish forces bombed YPG-held positions in the northern Syrian area of Tal Rifaat last week, Al Jazeera confirmed, citing state media reports from Friday.
The YPG still has Tal Rifaat under its control. Tal Rifaat is located between Turkish-controlled areas to the north and regions controlled by the Syrian government and anti-government rebels to the south. It is 20 km west of Afrin, an area captured by Turkey and its Free Syrian Army (FSA) allies in an anti-YPG operation last year.
The YPG has rejected the idea of the safe zones as they fear fresh offensives against territory under their control.