Turkey-backed rebels could push further
south in Syria, Erdogan says
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[September 19, 2016]
ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey-backed
rebels may extend their zone of control in northern Syria by pushing
south and were now focused on heading toward the Islamic State-held town
of al-Bab, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday.
Speaking at a news conference before departing for New York where he is
due to address the United Nations General Assembly, Erdogan said
Turkey's "safety zone" in the region could eventually span an area of
5,000 square kilometers (1,930 square miles).
Turkey last month launched its operation in northern Syria, dubbed
"Euphrates Shield", aimed at clearing Islamic State from Turkey's Syrian
border and stopping the advance of Syrian Kurdish fighters. So far,
Turkey has secured a narrow strip of land along its border.
"As part of the Euphrates Shield operation, an area of 900 square
kilometers has been cleared of terror so far. This area is pushing
south," Erdogan said.
"We may extend this area to 5,000 square kilometers as part of a safe
Turkey has long argued for the need for a "safe zone" or a "no-fly" zone
along its Syrian border, with the aim of clearing out Islamic State and
Kurdish fighters and of stemming a wave of immigration that has caused
tension in Europe.
But Western allies have so far balked at the idea, saying it would
require a significant ground force and planes to patrol, marking a major
commitment in such a crowded battlefield.
Erdogan also said the Turkey-backed rebels - a group of Syrian Arabs and
Turkmen fighting under the loose banner of the Free Syrian Army - were
now targeting the Islamic State-held town of al-Bab.
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Free Syrian Army fighters launch a Grad rocket from Halfaya town in
Hama province, towards forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar
al-Assad stationed in Zein al-Abidin mountain, Syria September 4,
2016. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah
"Jarablus and al-Rai have been cleansed, now we are moving towards
al-Bab... We will go there and stop (Islamic State) from being a
threat to us," he said.
(Reporting by Orhan Coskun, Seda Sezer and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing
by David Dolan; Editing by Toby Chopra)
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