Turkey to strengthen efforts for Syria safe zone, says Security Council

Turkey will further strengthen efforts in the realisation of a safe zone in northern Syria, according to a statement by the country’s National Security Council (MGK) following a meeting in Ankara on Monday.

“The safe zone project, which will ensure the return of Syrian refugees to their homes as soon as possible,” will gain strength while Turkey will “not hesitate to exert the necessary will to ensure national security,” Hürriyet newspaper quoted the council, chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as saying. 

U.S. and Turkish officials last month agreed to work together to create a buffer zone free of fighters from the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara views as an existential threat due to its presumed links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK is an armed group that has been at war in Turkey for over three decades and has been designated as a terrorist organisation by Ankara, the EU and the United States. 

The YPG controls some enclaves in northeast Syria along the Turkish border and forms the backbone of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria.

Erdoğan earlier this month said up to 3 million Syrian refugees could be repatriated to the safe zone U.S. and Turkish forces are setting up in northeast Syria, tripling the previously proposed number. 

Turkey is home to 3.6 million Syrian refugees.

However, Ankara has been critical of the lack of progress made with the envisaged zone, threatening to put its own operation plan into effect if Turkish troops do not control a “safe zone” within a few weeks.

Turkey will also continue with operations in northern Iraq “until all terrorists are eliminated from the area,’’ the council said. 

Turkey on Aug. 23, launched Operation Claw-3 in northern Iraq targeting PKK militants. 

Monday’s statement by the council also said that Turkey would continue its activities in the eastern Mediterranean.

Disputes over oil and gas reserves in the region have caused a spike in tensions between Turkey and Cyprus while Turkey's deployment of vessels to search for oil and gas in the region have prompted the EU to hit Ankara with sanctions.