Erdogan says Turkey to rid Syria's Tal Rifaat, Manbij of terrorists

A Turkish flag flutters on a military vehicle on the border of Manbij city
A Turkish flag flutters on a military vehicle on the border of Manbij city, Syria November 1, 2018. REUTERS/Rodi Said

ANKARA, June 1 (Reuters) - President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday Turkey will rid northern Syria's Tal Rifaat and Manbij areas of terrorists, confirming the targets of the new incursion for the first time and saying it will continue into other regions.

His comments, in a speech to lawmakers from his ruling AK Party, came a week after he pledged a new military incursion on Turkey's southern border against the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia YPG, which Ankara views as a terrorist group.

"We are going into the new phase of our determination to form a 30-km (20-mile) deep safe zone along our southern border. We will clear Tal Rifaat and Manbij of terrorists, and we will do the same to other regions step-by-step," he said.

"Let's see who supports these legitimate steps by Turkey and who hinders them," Erdogan added.

Ankara has carried out four operations in northern Syria since 2016, seizing hundreds of kilometres of land and pushing some 30 km deep into the country, mainly targeting the YPG.

While backing opposing sides in Syria's war, Turkey has coordinated with Russia on its military operations.

Turkey's cross-border operations have been criticised by its NATO allies, notably the United States and some have imposed a series of arms embargoes on Ankara. Washington expressed concern at any new offensive in northern Syria, saying it would put U.S. troops at risk and undermine regional stability. read more

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday repeated the Biden administration's opposition to the move.

"Any escalation there in northern Syria is something that we would oppose, and we support the maintenance of the current ceasefire lines," Blinken told a news conference.

"We continue effectively to take the fight through partners to ISIS, within Syria, and we don't want to see anything that jeopardizes the efforts that are made to continue to keep ISIS in the box that we put it in," he added.

Ankara's announcement of a new offensive in Syria coincides with its objections to Finland and Sweden's NATO bids on the grounds that they back Kurdish militants and groups Turkey deems terrorists, and because of arms embargoes imposed by over a 2019 Turkish offensive into northern Syria. read more

Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ezgi Erkoyun; Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Simon Lewis in Washington; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Alison Williams

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