World Bulletin / News Desk
Turkey's target after liberating Al-Bab, Syria, from ISIL is the town of Manbij, and clearing the terrorist PKK's Syrian offshoot, PYD, from the region, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Friday.
Erdogan’s remarks came in an interview with the satellite channel al-Arabiya that aired during his visit to the Saudi capital, Riyadh, as part of a Gulf tour that also took the Turkish leader to Bahrain and Qatar.
Erdogan linked the resolution of the Syrian crisis with confronting terrorism, especially the ISIL terror group inside Syria.
Turkey’s president reiterated that a terror-free safe zone should be established between Jarablus and Al-Rai in northern Syria, decrying the “large human crisis represented by the refugees, 2.8 million of whom Turkey is hosting”.
Turkey hosts more Syrian refugees than any other country in the world. It has spent approximately $25 billion to shelter and provide for refugees since the beginning of Syrian war in early 2011.
Erdogan stressed that to achieve stability in the region and Syria, serious support from Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, is needed.
“The murderous Assad regime has killed innocents, and the announced number is 600,000 Syrians, but I believe that the number is more than that, I believe it is around 1 million since the regime used barrel bombs and all weapons and tanks and artillery, and destroyed civilization as well as archaeological sites, and did that brutally and without hesitation and it is continuing,” said Erdogan.
On Turkey’s efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis, Erdogan stressed multiple aspects, including confronting terrorism, humanitarian efforts, and seeking a cease-fire in the war-torn country through political efforts.
The Turkish president stressed that his only wish is to reach “a cease-fire and stop the bloodshed”.
Turkey has been in contact with Russia to achieve this goal, he said, adding that progress can be made in talks in Astana, Kazakhstan.
Amid all this, he said, Turkey is also confronting terrorism in Syria. “Do not forget that there is a terrorist organization called ISIL in the region, and we are confronting this terrorist organization as well,” he said.
“When did we start fighting this organization [ISIL] with full determination? When it targeted innocent Turkish citizens in the city of Gaziantep; when they targeted, using a suicide attacker, a crowd of revelers on the occasion of a wedding,” said Erdogan, referring to an attack in southeastern Turkey last year that killed 57 victims and wounded dozens of others.
“We subsequently made a decision and went directly to Jarabulus and our forces reinforced the Free [Syrian] Army."
“There was not only the ISIL organization, but we were also fighting terrorism on more than one front. There were the PYD and YPG and we cleared ISIL from Al-Rai, and then we proceeded to Dabiq” and cleared it, Erdogan said.
The PYD and its military wing, YPG, are Syrian branches of the terrorist PKK.
The PKK -- listed as a terror organization by Turkey, the U.S., and EU -- resumed its armed campaign in July 2015 and since has been responsible for the deaths of approximately 1,100 Turkish security personnel and civilians, including women and children.
“Now, we reached Al-Bab [in Aleppo province] and the battle there is intense and very hot, especially now that Operation Euphrates Shield is still ongoing, and I think that within a few days Al-Bab will be cleared of ISIL," said Erdogan.
The Turkish-led Operation Euphrates Shield began in late August to improve security, support coalition forces, and eliminate the terror threat along the Turkish border using Free Syrian Army fighters backed by Turkish artillery and jets.
Erdogan continued, "And then we will go to Manbij because Manbij is an Arab-affiliated area, because there is the PYD and YPG, and this area should be cleared of these terrorist organization elements, and we previously expressed our concern about that to former U.S. President Barack Obama, and to the current [U.S.] administration.”
An upcoming target is Raqqah, a city on the northeast bank of the Euphrates River, he said.
He added, “As you know, Raqqah is the most important center for ISIL, so I have told Mr. Donald Trump that we, as coalition forces, are together for the goal of clearing the region of ISIL. We have also told other representatives: ‘If we act jointly, we can give Raqqa to our Arab brothers, who are its owners, after ridding the region of ISIL. So, the region would reach stability, partially. Now we are following the process.”
Erdogan said Turkey needs the support of Gulf countries to create a safe zone between the northern Syrian city of Jarablus and the town of Al-Rai.
“Actually, we need Gulf countries’ support, led by Saudi Arabia. Why do I say this? First of all there is a huge refugee crisis here. Where are these people? Most of these people are in Turkey; we now have 2.8 million Syrian brothers. We are now hosting them in tents, container cities, [and] in various provinces of Turkey. Of course we do not find this adequate. We say, let us declare a safe zone from terrorism between Jarablus and Al-Rai, in the southern part, an area of about 30-40 kilometers (19-25 miles). Let's also declare that place a no-fly zone. Let us also create a national army by doing training and equipping.”
On the region’s humanitarian needs, Erdogan said Turkey is doing its duty toward Syrians by providing food, medicine, and the like.
"And we will continue our support for the Syrian people as we cannot abandon them," he said.
He added that he discussed the issue with “my Saudi brothers and with Europe and U.S., and we can embark on a housing project and build complexes and homes to enable the refugees to go back to their lands, and to stay in these houses, and then we would take a considerable step on the way to stability, and this is our great hope”.
Asked whether he believes there were governments behind ISIL, Erdogan said, "We know that the ISIL organization receives support from the international community, and there are strong financial parties that support the organization”.
The same can be said of al-Qaeda and the African terror groups Boko Haram and al-Shabaab, he said.
“We know that there are states standing behind terrorist organizations and working to divide our region and tear it apart, not only from within the Muslim world but also from outside of it," Erdogan said.
"The weapons possessed by terrorist organizations are a creation of the West. Through these weapons these organizations practice terrorism and spread themselves,” he said, adding this is true not only of ISIL but also the PKK/PYD and YPG.
“I am telling you that U.S. weapons, Russian weapons, German weapons, and French weapons are here [in Syria]. I also tell these facts to officials of those countries: ‘They hit us with your guns, they hit Muslims, are you tracking it, are you checking this?’ When I ask this question, they always pass it on [to the next person]. We need to see and need to know about this.”
"This organization is a terrorist organization and has no relation to Islam,” stressed Erdogan, adding that ISIL would meet its end in Syria.
“I believe that the coalition forces are also intent on this matter, as well as the countries in the region, led by Saudi Arabia," Erdogan said.
He urged the region, the West and the world: “If we do not mount a joint effort against terrorism, these terrorist organizations will become a calamity for us in other areas, in other Gulf cities, in our country and other countries.”
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