Turkey’s counter-terrorism operation in northern Syria will resume if the YPG/PKK terror group does not withdraw from the region, said the country’s foreign minister on Monday.
“We have 35 hours left. If they don’t withdraw, our operation will resume. This is also what we agreed with the Americans,” Mevlut Cavusoglu said in his opening speech at the TRT World Forum which kicked off in Istanbul.
Turkey on Oct. 9 launched Operation Peace Spring to eliminate terrorists from northern Syria in order to secure Turkey’s borders, aid in the safe return of Syrian refugees and ensure Syria’s territorial integrity.
“If all the YPG/PKK elements withdraw from this region, we can halt the operation,” he said.
On Oct. 17, Turkey agreed to pause the Syria operation for 120 hours to allow the withdrawal of YPG/PKK terrorists from the planned safe zone.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence also agreed on a 32-kilometer (20-mile) safe zone south of the Turkish border in Syria.
Turkish armed forces and intelligence now observe the agreement with the U.S., Cavusoglu said, adding that harassment fires continue on the ground.
“I think around 30 harassing fires came and we lost one soldier. As we agreed with the Americans, we retaliated against those harassing fires,” he said.
The top diplomat, however, said that Turkey observed YPG/PKK elements started to leave the region recently.
In regards to the political dimension of the Syria crisis, Cavusoglu said: “Talks continue with Astana guarantors. Tomorrow, we are going to Sochi to meet with [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin. That meeting will be also very crucial.”
Erdogan and Putin will meet in Sochi, a Russian coastal city, on Tuesday as part of Turkish leader’s one-day visit to Russia.
In 2017, the Astana peace process to end the Syrian conflict was spearheaded by Turkey, Russia, and Iran in Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan, formerly Astana, and since then has seen over a dozen meetings.
During his speech at TRT World Forum, Cavusoglu stressed that Turkey’s priority is the elimination of the YPG/PYD, Syrian offshoot of the PKK, from the ground.
“We are ready to work with all actors, small groups, Astana guarantors, and the other international community of course led by the UN to reach our political settlement, peace, and stability in Syria,” he said.
Cavusoglu reiterated that Turkey is against terrorist organizations, not Kurds, recalling that it hosts over 350,000 Syrian Kurds who fled the YPG/PKK violence.
Since the launch of Operation Peace Spring in northern Syria, Turkey has faced false accusations and smear campaigns, he said.
Turkey has never used chemical weapons in its history, Cavusoglu underscored, in response to a smear campaign by YPG/PKK supporters.
Ankara wants to clear east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria of the terrorist YPG/PKK.
In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK — listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union — has been responsible for deaths of 40,000 people, including women, children, and infants.
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