Turkey will soon launch a new phase in its invasion of Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputies in the weekly parliamentary group meeting on Wednesday.
“We are launching the new phase of our plan to establish a 30 km deep safe zone along our southern borders. We will clear Tel Rifaat and Manbij of terrorists,” Erdoğan said.
Attacks on the two Syrian Kurdish towns will then be followed by “other regions step by step”, the president said. “We will see who will support these legitimate steps for security.”
Turkey had “supposedly” been on the same side as members of the International Coalition to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS), Erdoğan said. “What happened? Without satisfactory answers to our questions, without seeing binding documents, we will not change our attitude.”
Amid allegations of Turkey providing support for ISIS fighters, particularly against Syrian Kurdish forces, the US-led coalition partnered with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the main military component of which is the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Turkey considered the YPG to be the Syrian chapter of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which it has been fighting for four decades, and designates both terrorist organisations.
PKK was working to create a “terrorist corridor” along Turkey’s southern border with Syria, Erdoğan said, referring to Kurdish-majority north and east Syria, most commonly called Rojava.
The president also called Sweden and Finland “duplicitous” over the two countries’ bids to join NATO.
“Turkey’s approach to new NATO members is not opportunistic but a principled stance over the war against terror,” Erdoğan said. “Sweden and Finland’s duplicitous attitude has come out in discussions over their NATO bids.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Erdoğan’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told state-run Anadolu Agency that the two Nordic countries “should change their laws if needed” to meet Turkey’s demands.
Erdoğan wants Sweden and Finland to designate the YPG a terrorist organisation, crackdown harder on Kurds and other dissidents who live in the two countries, and to extradite persons Turkey considers to be terrorists before agreeing to not veto their NATO applications.
All member states have the veto power against new members joining the military alliance. Turkey has the second largest military in the alliance, after the United States.
“Are our demands impossible? No. We want them to stop supporting terrorism,” Çavuşoğlu said. “They say since they are far away from terror regions, their laws are designed differently. Well, then you need to change them.”
“They say terrorist organisations holding demonstrations with their rags is allowed in their laws. So then you change that law,” he continued.
The minister summoned envoys from Germany and France on Monday to issue a stern warning against “terrorist rags”, he said.
While PKK is on the European Union’s list of foreign terrorist organisations, the YPG is not, and thus its flags are not among banned symbols in any of the countries in question.
Campaigns continue throughout Europe to get the PKK delisted, where activists and legal experts argue that the PKK has not carried out any terrorist activity in Europe and does not intend to.
Earlier on the same day, Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat ran an interview with Turkey’s Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun, who said Turkey wants to “see concrete and lasting steps to prevent terrorist organisations from operating”.
“In the end, the Finnish government must decide what is more important: To join NATO or to protect (terrorist organisations),” Altun said.