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Erdogan: Turkey Will 'Clear Terrorists' From Syria Border If Sochi Deal Fails


Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi on October 22

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned that Turkey will "clear terrorists" on its border in northeast Syria if Kurdish fighters do not withdraw by the end of a deadline agreed with Russia.

"If the terrorists are not cleared at the end of the 150 hours, we will take control and clean it ourselves," Erdogan said during a speech in Istanbul on October 26, referring to the YPG militia.

Turkey says the YPG is a "terrorist" offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a guerrilla campaign inside Turkey since the 1980s.

Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed a deal in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on October 23 under which Moscow will "facilitate the removal" of the fighters and their weapons from within 32 kilometers of the border.

The deadline ends at 6 p.m. local time on October 29.

Erdogan said Turkey has "to a large extent" achieved its goal in terms of setting up a "safe zone" against attacks from the Islamic State (IS) militant group and the YPG.

Erdogan also urged the international community to support establishing a "safe zone" for some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.

"If there is no support for the projects we are developing for between 1 and 2 million in the first stage for their return, we will have no option but to open our doors and let them go to Europe," Erodgan threatened.

Erdogan insisted he was "not blackmailing anyone" but "putting forward a solution."

Turkey's assault against Kurdish fighters began after President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the region earlier this month.

Ankara and Washington eventually reached an agreement on the YPG's withdrawal from a 120-kilometer zone between Tal Abiad and Ras al-Ain following Ankara's operation supporting Syrian proxies against the Kurdish fighters, which began on October 9.

Separately, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on October 26 that a German proposal for an international force to establish a "safe zone" in northern Syria was unrealistic.

Speaking at a news conference in Ankara alongside German counterpart Heiko Maas, Cavusoglu said, "At this point, we don't find it really realistic."

Turkey was subjected to some harsh criticism for its operation in Syria during a NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels, where German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer suggested a "security zone" could allow international forces, including European troops, to resume the fight against IS as well as to "stabilize the region."

The commander of Kurdish forces in Syria has welcomed the plan, as has the United States, but so far it has gained little further traction and few details are available.

On October 25, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban praised Turkey’s military incursion in Syria and said it will help prevent another flood of refugees seeking to flee to Europe.

The far-right leader said the European Union should give financial assistance to Turkey to help develop infrastructure in the new Turkish-controlled areas in northeastern Syria.

Otherwise, he told Hungarian public radio, "more than 3 million migrants" could leave Turkey and head to Europe on the Balkan route.

"A hundred thousand will then go to Greece from Turkey, from Greece to the Balkans, and from the Balkans to either the Hungarian or Croatian borders," he said.

Orban has developed close links with Erdogan, who personally thanked Orban for his "support" at a meeting in Kazakhstan last week. The two are to meet in Budapest on November 7.

Putin is to visit Hungary next week.

With reporting byReuters, AFP, and dpa
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