TURKEY

For Syrian integrity, PYD/YPG must go, President Erdoğan says

IHA Photo

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that the territorial integrity of Syria can only be preserved if the PYD/YPG terror group is cleared away from the northern city of Manbij and regions east of the Euphrates River.

Turkey's president said Thursday that to protect Syria's territorial integrity, the terrorist PYD/YPG must be swept away from areas where it persists near the Turkish border.

"Syria's territorial integrity will not be ensured unless the PYD/YPG terror group is cleared away from Manbij, [and] east of the Euphrates," Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, ahead of their trilateral meeting with their Iranian counterpart.

In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK -- recognized as a terror group by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU -- has been responsible for the deaths of some 40,000 people, including women and children. The PYD/YPG is the group's Syrian branch.

Turkey promised a counter-terrorist operation against the PYD/PYG in Syria, following two similar successful operations since 2016.

Erdoğan also said Turkey welcomes Russia's positive attitude towards a proposed safe zone in northern Syria, adding that Turkey also supports the idea as long as it serves to address Turkey's national security concerns.

He said they may soon conclude the formation of Syrian constitutional committee, taking into account reservations expressed by the UN.

"It is very important that the cooperation which took place regarding the use of airspace in Idlib also takes place in Afrin and the area [liberated by] Operation Euphrates Shield -- one of the previous counter-terror operations --," Erdoğan added.

Idlib violations

The president said Turkey put intensive effort to solve the problem related to the radical groups in Idlib, northwestern Syria.

"We are pleased that our military officials have reached an agreement over joint patrols in the area," Erdoğan said.

He added that Turkey did not spot any elements with heavy weapons during its drone-backed search over the demilitarized zone.

After a meeting in Sochi last September between Erdoğan and Putin, the two sides agreed to set up a demilitarized zone -- in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited -- in Idlib.

The following month saw all heavy weapons withdrawn from the de-escalation zone by Syrian opposition and anti-regime groups.

But according to the Syrian White Helmets civil defense group, at least 30 people in Idlib were killed in January, including women and children, while another 180 were injured -- in Idlib, Hama and Latakia -- by regime drone attacks and artillery fire.

Last month also saw the regime targeting Idlib's southeastern countryside, along with rural parts of the Aleppo, Latakia and Hama provinces.

Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011, when the Assad regime cracked down on protesters with unexpected ferocity.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of people are believed to have been killed and millions more displaced by the conflict.

Ahead of his meeting with Putin, Erdoğan had bilateral talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

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