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Erdoğan says Turkey's cross-border operation into Syria's Idlib is 'a matter of time'

Speaking at the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) parliamentary group meeting in Ankara, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Wednesday that Turkey has completed preparations to implement its own operation plan regarding Syria's Idlib, where the Assad regime and Russian forces incessantly attack civilian infrastructure despite previous agreements.

Anadolu Agency TÜRKIYE
Published February 19,2020
AA Photo

Turkey launching a cross-border operation into Idlib, northwestern Syria, is just "a matter of time," the Turkish president said on Wednesday.

"As with all [previous] operations, we say 'we could suddenly come one night.' In other words, an Idlib operation is a matter of time," Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told his party's parliamentary group in the capital Ankara, referring to three Turkish operations into northern Syria since 2016.

Meetings with Russian officials on ending the bloodshed in Idlib, a conflict-battered province covered by a nominal cease-fire, have failed to produce results, said Erdoğan.

"Although the meetings will continue, it is a reality that we were very far from what we want, " he said.

Erdoğan added: "Turkey has made all preparations to carry out its own operation plans in Idlib."

Turkey is determined to transform Idlib into a safe place at any cost for the sake of both Turkey and the region's people, the president said.

For several years, Turkey has stressed the safety of Syrians along its southern border, both from terrorists seeking to form a "terror corridor" in northern Syria, and from attacks by the Assad regime, Russian forces, and Iranian-backed forces.

In September 2018, Turkey and Russia agreed to turn Idlib province into a de-escalation zone in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.

But since more than 1,800 civilians have been killed in attacks by regime and Russian forces, flouting both the 2018 cease-fire and a new one that started Jan. 12.

Assad regime advances have forced over 1.7 million civilians to flee toward the border with Turkey, which already hosts more than 3.7 million Syrians, and the largest number of refugees in the world.

Since 2016, Turkey has launched a trio of successful anti-terrorist operations across its border into northern Syria to prevent the formation of a terror corridor and enable peaceful settlement by locals: Operations Euphrates Shield (2016), Olive Branch (2018), and Peace Spring (October 2019).

Turning to the Libyan crisis, the Turkish president said that European Union had no authority to take any decision on Libya.

Erdoğan welcomed Libya's UN-recognized government's withdrawal from the UN-hosted military committee talks in Geneva, following an attack on the Port of Tripoli.

"If a fair agreement did not come out of the meetings in which the international community also involved ... we will support the legitimate government in Tripoli having control over the entire country," he said.

Earlier Tuesday, a joint military commission representing Libya's UN-recognized government and Haftar's forces began a second round of talks for a possible solution, but the GNA announced the suspension of its participation in the cease-fire talks due to Haftar's forces' attack on the port in the capital violating the cease-fire.

Since the ouster of late ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, two seats of power have emerged in Libya: Haftar in eastern Libya supported mainly by Egypt and the UAE, and the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, which enjoys the UN and international recognition.

Libya's legitimate government has been under attack by Haftar's forces since last April, and more than 1,000 people have been killed in the violence.

Addressing journalists' questions after the parliamentary group, Erdoğan evaluated the U.S. President Donald Trump's remarks on Idlib.

"Any cooperation [with US] can be [engaged] at any moment," Erdoğan said.

On Tuesday, Trump said Washington and Ankara are "working together" to determine what can be done amid a Syrian regime offensive backed by Russia and Iran that the UN said led to the displacement of 900,000 people already.

Erdoğan is seeking to ensure a humanitarian catastrophe does not befall northwest Syria's Idlib province, Trump said.

"He's fighting on Idlib," Trump said. "He doesn't want people to be killed by the thousands, and hundreds of thousands."