G20 Summit: Erdogan seeks “Safe zones” in Syria

G20 Summit: Erdogan seeks "Safe zones" in Syria
Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan holds a news conference after the closing of the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, September 5, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday said he urged world leaders to establish a no-fly zone in northern Syria, two weeks after Turkish forces pushed the “Islamic State” militant group and Kurdish militias from the border area.

Speaking in China, Erdogan said he had repeated a proposal for a “no-fly zone” in Syria during his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama.

Mr. Erdogan said that Syria remains a “bleeding wound of the world” that has perpetuated the rise of terror groups, resulting in many lives being lost in the country and sparking a global humanitarian crisis.

Turkey, which hosts 3 million Syrian refugees, has long pushed for a safe zone to protect civilians but has found little appetite among Western allies, who fear such a move would involve a deeper military commitment.

“The Syrian citizens in our country and those would want to migrate from Syria can now find the opportunity to live more peacefully in their own land and their own houses,” Erdogan said of the area cleared of militants.

“A no-fly zone could be set up there, and that was my suggestion to both Obama and Putin. This could be achieved with the coalition forces. We are in an effort to take this step,” he told a news conference.

Turkey proposed such a “safe zone”, which would stretch roughly 40 km deep into Syria, at last year’s G20 meeting in the Turkish city of Antalya, but without success. An internationally-policed no-fly zone would be needed to protect the area from aerial bombardment.

“At the Antalya summit, we persistently told all leaders that we could solve the migrant crisis by setting up a safe zone,” Erdogan said in China. “Now at this summit too, we have brought up this issue with all our friends.”

Fight against terrorism

In a bid to protect its border, Turkey launched an incursion into northern Syria almost two weeks ago, and has since cleared Islamic State and Kurdish militia fighters from a 90-km (56-mile) stretch of territory. Ankara, fighting a Kurdish insurgency at home, calls both groups terrorist organizations.

President Erdogan said: “Terrorism has increased its threat against the world and continues to day by day. The bloody coup attempt [in Turkey] is also another form of terrorism. This time around, Turkey, which has been fighting against the PKK, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and ISIS, also fought against a terrorist group that infiltrated the Turkish Armed Forces.” He added that if a globally united stance is not established, sooner or later, terror will hit those who remain silent against terrorism.

“During the attack, 241 people, from all roots and regions of our country, were martyred,” President Erdogan said, adding that the coup attempt was an example of how daring terror organizations have become.

He added that the Ankara-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA), the moderate opposition, successfully cleared DAESH from Turkey’s southern border in Syria. “Now, the real owners of Jarablus are relocating to their towns, as it has been cleared of DAESH,” the president said. “Turkey’s Jarablus operation in Syria reflects Turkey’s determination in the fight against terrorism. We would like the G20 to be more effective in finding solutions to the global issue,” he added.