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Syria: Erdogan says military operation will target Tel Rifaat and Manbij

Turkish president says northern Syrian towns to be cleared of 'terrorists' in proposed offensive
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) is applauded by party members at the Grand National Assembly in Ankara, 18 May 2022 (AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that his country will launch a new military operation in northern Syria, targeting the towns of Tel Rifaat and Manbij.

In a speech made to MPs of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Erdogan said the Turkish military would continue to rid its neighbour of "terrorists" linked to the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG).

"We are taking a new step in establishing a 30km security zone along our southern border," he said. "We will clean up Tel Rifaat and Manbij."

He added that the military would also proceed "step by step in other regions".

The operation would be the fourth of its kind in northern Syria, conducted with the declared purpose of combating threats to Turkey from the Islamic State group and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and its allied Syrian Kurdish groups, as well as enabling the resettlement of internally displaced Syrians.

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Earlier operations were Euphrates Shield (2016), Olive Branch (2018) and Peace Spring (2019), which saw Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies seize border territory previously controlled by the YPG, a US-backed militia that Turkey accuses of being the Syrian wing of the PKK.

The YPG and the Syrian Democratic Forces militia it forms a large part of still control large swathes of northeast Syria.

Turkey has fought a guerilla war with the PKK since 1984, a conflict over Kurdish independence and autonomy that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

Erdogan has long been angered by US support for the SDF and relations have soured between the Nato allies.

"Who will support these legitimate security operations led by Turkey and who will try to oppose them, we will see," Erdogan said on Wednesday.

There have also been tensions over Turkey's refusal to allow Sweden and Finland to join the Nato military alliance unless they agree to extradite suspected PKK members and other dissidents to Turkey. Erdogan said both countries must end military export bans that were introduced in 2019 in response to Ankara's military operations in Syria.

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