Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced yesterday that Turkey will form safe zones in northern Syria and expects four million Syrian refugees to return to the country.
Speaking at a coordination meeting between the Red Crescent and Red Cross representatives in Istanbul, Erdogan said that Turkey is: “Aiming in the first phase to create safe zones where four million Syrians who now live in our country can return”. Erdogan also added that nearly 300,000 Syrian refugees have already returned to areas in northern Syria controlled by Turkish-backed rebels.
In his remarks, Erdogan said that Turkey: “Will soon bring security and peace to east of the Euphrates” and that Turkish forces will “clear” remaining ISIS forces, which he says were “deliberately left there and trained against Turkey.”
Turkey aims to create a 20-mile zone along its border with Syria in order to push back against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG). The YPG has been a key US partner in the fight against the Islamic State. US President Donald Trump shocked allies in December when he announced he would withdraw US forces from Syria. Erdogan said Turkey held “positive consultations” with the United States and Russia and that Turkey would “continue to be in contact with powers which have a military presence in the field.” Last Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Turkey has the capacity to “establish this security zone on our own and take the necessary measures,” but would not exclude the United States or Russia if they wanted to cooperate.
There has been heavy fighting between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and ISIS fighters in Deir el-Zour in the last two days, the last significant territory still under ISIS control. The SDF reported that 288 ISIS militants have been killed by coalition bombardments and SDF forces in the last three days. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that 30,550 people have fled the area since early December, “including about 2,770” ISIS members hidden among the civilian population.