Turkey told NATO allies it’s ready to cooperate for safe zone in North Syria

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Turkey is ready to cooperate with NATO allies in turning northeastern Syria into a safe and habitable environment where the refugees may voluntarily return, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar has said, highlighting the Turkish government’s willingness to study a proposal tabled by Germany to that end.

“We always ask our allies: ‘What proposals you can put forward in terms of providing security and welfare to this region so that Syrians may return on a volunteer basis?’ I have raised this question to my colleagues here: ‘What can you do for us?’ I have listened to their proposals and shared our readiness to engage with them,” Akar told a group of reporters in Brussels, where he attended NATO defense ministers’ meeting on Oct. 24 and 25.

Akar held bilateral meetings with his American, French, British, German and Greek counterparts from the alliance as well as with Qatari and Afghan defense ministers on the sidelines of the meetings.

The NATO ministers had in-depth discussions on the Turkish military operation in northeastern Syria, as many allied countries argued that it would further destabilize the region and risk the return of ISIL.

Akar conveyed that there were some criticisms directed against the Turkish operation in both plenary sessions and in private meetings by some ministers.

“I have explained our position and the background conditions of this operation in an open and frank way. As a result of our talks, a lot of issues have been clarified on their minds,” he said.

“Turkey has never wanted to hold this operation alone,” Akar said, recalling that the government has long been demanding help from its allies to eradicate the terrorist threats just across its borders, which were in fact the borders of the NATO as well.

“We had to move because our calls have not been responded. And we have been observing that the terrorist organization was increasing its capacity every passing day. We could no longer tolerate that,” he stressed.

“Just imagine, terrorists fired more than 1,00” mortar shells on Turkish residential areas and killed two dozens of people, including a nine-month-old baby.”

Turkey ready to examine German proposal

As Turkey’s recent agreements with the U.S. and Russia helped to de-escalate tension in northeastern Syria after the YPG has withdrawn to the south, Akar reiterated Ankara’s call for a multilateral effort to create conditions for voluntarily return of the refugees to the region.

In this context, he stressed that Turkey found the proposal put forward by Germany for the creation of a security zone in northeast Syria as positive.

“I have met my German counterpart and told her that we are ready to examine the proposal once we will hear more details about it. Because her proposal is in line with our previous calls for setting up a safe zone,” he said.

German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karranbauer has suggested setting up an internationally controlled security zone in northeastern Syria in the aftermath of the Turkish military operation against the YPG, the Syrian offshoot of the PKK, a group listed as terrorist by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU.

Minister thanks to Spain for Patriots

Another issue discussed at the NATO was how the alliance would continue to protect the Turkish air space against the potential attacks by the Syrian regime after Italy has announced that it withdraws its SAMP/T batteries from Turkey.

Spain has decided to extend the deployment of the Patriot batteries in Turkey although there were reports that Madrid was pondering to terminate the mission.

“We thank to our Spanish friends for their decision to extend the mission. We very much appreciate this move,” Akar stated.

Turkey’s orbit not changing

Akar has indirectly responded to U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper’s claim that Turkey was not heading in the right direction as it was moving from NATO’s orbit to Russia’s orbit.

“We are hearing claims on Turkey’s direction. Turkey is not going anywhere. It stays where it is. It’s committed to upholding its responsibilities at NATO and continuing its active participation in different NATO missions, from Afghanistan to Kosovo,” he said.

‘Turkey fights ISIL, too’

In response to arguments that the Turkish operation would weaken the ongoing anti-ISIL fight, the minister recalled that Turkey is a part of the global anti-ISIL coalition and has been actively fighting the jihadist terrorists.

“Turkey is not only fighting against the YPG but also against the ISIL in the east of Euphrates. We have neutralized more than three thousand Daesh members in Syria through our operations,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for the ISIL.

On the imprisoned ISIL members in the east of Euphrates, there are 14 prisons in the entire region with around 2,000 jailed terrorists, Akar said, citing information provided to him by the U.S. officials.

“Out of 14 prisons, only one of them is in the area we control now. One of the first places our troops sought to secure was the prison just outside Tal Abyad but when we reached out there we have seen that the YPG had already liberated the prisoners,” the minister said.

“So far, we could re-collect 265 Daesh members,” he informed, adding relevant state bodies were taking necessary actions.

Claims on ethnic cleansing are pure fantasy

Akar did also respond claims that the Turkish army is committing ethnic cleansing against the Kurdish population of Syria.

The Turkish operation is not against an ethnic or religious group but against the terrorists, Akar said.

“First of all, the YPG is not representing the Kurds. It’s not Kurdish. There are Turks, Arabs, French, Italian and Europeans among them. We have received a lot of positive messages from Syrian Kurdish communities and Christian population in Syria. Because they were suffering from the YPG’s pressures,” he said.

“The allegations on ethnic cleansing are pure fantasy. Accusing a country of ethnic cleansing is a very serious and heavy claim. We have called on everybody to come and to conduct their own investigations. They can come and check whether chemical weapons have been used,” he added.

Turkey has no such weapons in its stocks and has never developed a military doctrine paving the way for using the weapons of mass destruction, the minister said.

“It was a very big lie to suggest that Turkey has used chemical weapons in Syria. Turkey never, ever uses such weapons. We don’t have these weapons in our inventory. This is completely against our faith, moral and humane values.”

These claims are not true and diffused by western media outlets. “These are all fake news. We have seen them during our Operation Euphrates Shield as well.”

The Turkish army will look into individual cases

The minister acknowledged that there could be some individual wrongdoings during the military operation but the Turkish army has all its legal and administrative capacity to look into these claims.

“Just like all modern armies, the Turkish Armed Forces does have its legal and administrative bodies to probe any wrongdoing. This is being done and if it is proven that a crime is committed, then necessary actions will be taken,” he said.

Deal with Russia implemented

On the question of whether the Turkish-Russian deal is in place and implemented in the right way, Akar said there were no problems so far in regards to the Ankara-Moscow agreement.

“The agreement we have brokered with Russia terminates at 6.00 p.m. on Oct 29. We will move in accordance with the developments in the field but we see that it is being implemented in the right way and in line with the deal,” he recalled.

Hurriyet Daily News

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