Istanbul / AFP
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that Turkey could create a 5,000-square-kilometre (1,900 square-mile) safe zone in Syria by pushing further south in its military operation in the country.
Turkey launched its operation in northern Syria on August 24, sending in tanks and special forces to support opposition fighters in a bid to remove IS extremists and Kurdish militia forces from its border.
So far the Jarabulus and Al-Rai regions have been cleared of IS militants, Erdogan said, adding that forces would now go “downwards towards Al-Bab” city.
The IS bastion of Al-Bab is 30 kilometres (18 miles) from Al-Rai on the Turkish border and in the battleground province of Aleppo.
“(Already) an area of 900 square kilometres has been cleansed of terrorist elements (IS). This is now going south,” Erdogan said, referring to Ankara’s operation dubbed “Euphrates Shield”.
The president added in televised comments that the zone already cleared “could be extended to 5,000 square kilometres as part of a safe zone”.
Erdogan was speaking in Istanbul ahead of flying to New York where he will give a speech at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.
He has repeatedly called for a safe zone in northern Syria, supported by a no-fly zone which it believes could help to alleviate the refugee crisis.
Turkey is home to some 2.5 million Syrian refugees but Erdogan suggested Turkey’s actions could see more returning to safe areas.
Hundreds returned to Jarabulus earlier this month with Ankara’s support including supplying electricity.
Ankara-backed fighters recaptured the town of Jarabulus from IS extremists on the first day of the operation within hours, without much resistance from the group.
The president said he would discuss the Syrian conflict which has raged for more than five years in his UN speech, saying that it was not just an issue for Syria or Syria’s neighbours to tackle.
He will also speak about the July 15 failed coup during which a rogue military faction tried to oust him from power, leaving nearly 270 dead
including 24 coup-plotters.