Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to establish a “safe zone” in Syria with the professed intention of protecting the country’s southern border, after Ankara launched a barrage of air strikes against Kurdish-led militants in the Arab country’s north.
Erdogan made the remark during a televised speech to mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Friday, as Ankara has long sought to build a “safe zone” with a depth of 30 kilometers in northern Syria and repeatedly threatened to start a new military offensive in the area to achieve its goal.
“With the security zone we are establishing on the other side of our border, we are also protecting the rights of millions of women and children,” Erdogan said, adding, “God willing, we will complete this zone along the border from the west to the east as soon as possible.”
The Turkish president vowed on Tuesday to launch the country’s fourth illegal ground operation in Syria “soon,” issuing the most direct threat of the kind since May, when he started warning of such an invasion.
“We have been on top of terrorists for a few days with our planes, cannons, and drones,” Erdogan said, referring to the Turkish military’s back-to-back strikes against Kurdish militants in northern Syria throughout the past several days.
Last week, the Turkish military carried out a series of airstrikes across the Syrian provinces of Aleppo and Hasakah, targeting several towns and villages throughout those provinces.
The Turkish Defense Ministry said it carried out airstrikes on the outlawed Kurdish militant bases in northern Syria, which it said were used to carry out attacks on Turkey. It added that the strikes targeted bases of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Syrian Kurdish YPG militants, which Turkey regards as a wing of the PKK.
Turkey had already said that it planned to pursue targets in northern Syria after it completed a cross-border operation against the PKK militants in Iraq, following a deadly bomb attack in Istanbul on November 13.
Turkey blames Kurdish militants for the blast on Istanbul’s Istiklal Avenue, which killed six people and injured more than 80. No group has claimed responsibility for the blast and both the PKK and the YPG have denied involvement in it.
Turkey has deployed forces in Syria in violation of the Arab country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Ankara-backed militants were deployed to northeastern Syria in October 2019 after Turkish military forces launched a long-threatened cross-border invasion in a declared attempt to push YPG fighters away from border areas.
Ankara views the YPG, which controls swathes of Syria’s northern border region, as a terrorist organization tied to the homegrown Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has been seeking an autonomous Kurdish region in Turkey since 1984.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and other senior officials have said Damascus will respond through all legitimate means available to Turkey’s ongoing ground offensive.