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Erdogan: Turkey to launch new military operation in northern Syria

The latest incursion will seek to complete the 30-kilometre deep 'safe zone' aimed at combating militant groups in northern Syria
Turkish President Erdogan speaks during a ceremony at the Golcuk Naval Shipyard in Izmit, Turkey 23 May 2022 (Reuters)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Monday that Turkey will launch a new military operation across its southern borders with Syria to create a "safe zone". 

“We will soon take new steps regarding the incomplete portions of the project we started on the 30-kilometre deep safe zone we established along our southern border,” he said in a televised address.

“The main target of these operations will be areas that are centres of attacks on our country and safe zones.”

The operation will be the fourth of its kind in northern Syria, conducted with the declared purpose of combating threats to Turkey from the Islamic State group and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and its allied Syrian Kurdish groups, as well as enabling the resettlement of internally displaced Syrians.

Earlier operations were the Euphrates Shield (2016), Olive Branch (2018) and Peace Spring (2019) operations that saw Turkey and its Syrian allies seize border territory previously controlled by the People's Protection Units (YPG), a group allied to the PKK.

The YPG and the US-backed SDF militia still control large swathes of northeast Syria.

The announcement comes as Turkey has rejected bids by Finland and Sweden to join Nato over their alleged support for the PKK and their restriction on arms sales to Turkey following Ankara's operation in northern Syria in 2019. Western countries including the US criticised deadly attacks on Syrian Kurdish politicians during the operation.

The PKK has fought an armed struggle with the Turkish state since 1984, first for a Kurdish independent state and later for an autonomous region. Turkey, the US and EU all designate the PKK as a terrorist organisation due to a history of attacks on civilians. 

Last week, sources told Middle East Eye that Turkey had blocked the start of Nato talks regarding bids by Finland and Sweden to join the alliance. 

Turkish officials demand that Sweden and Finland extradite alleged PKK members to Turkey, stop the group's activities in their respective countries and end the military export bans introduced in 2019.

Sweden and Finland have rejected Turkey's accusations, affirmed their recognition of the PKK as a terror group and vehemently denied providing it with any support.