Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed that Turkey will show the same determination in fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) and Syrian Kurdish militias, on the fifth day of a cross-border operation that has already left dozens dead in northern Syria.
Addressing a crowd in central Gaziantep — where 54 guests at a wedding party, including 34 children, were killed on Aug. 20 — he said: “These betrayers will be drowned in the blood they shed… Turkey has not and will not surrender to any terrorist organizations or terror methods.”
The Gaziantep attack has been linked to ISIS but Erdogan said all terror groups served the same purpose.
“We know the same face is behind all of them,” he said. Turkey currently faces attacks from ISIS as well as the PKK and is engaged in supporting the Free Syrian Army against the PKK/PYD in Syria.
“Turkey has no toleration for any terrorist organization activities within its borders and nearby,” the president told the flag-waving crowd. “Our operations against the separatist organization will continue until the end.”
“We will make any kind of contribution to the work to clear ISIS from Syria,” he said.
“For the issue of the PYD (Democratic Union Party) terror group in Syria, we have just the same determination,” he added, referring to the main pro-Kurdish party and its military arm in northern Syria.
“That’s why we are in [Syria’s] Jarablus. And, if necessary, we will not flinch from taking on similar responsibilities in other areas.”
Erdogan also said that Turkey’s cross-border offensive into Syria was giving people who fled ISIS-controlled areas a chance to return home, including to Jarablus.
“Jarablus has been freed,” he said. “The original inhabitants of Jarablus are now in the process of going back.
“Anyone who wants to go back to Jarablus, will be given any support they need from us.”
Euphrates Shield operations in Syria
On Sunday, Turkey intensified its “Euphrates Shield” military offensive in northern Syria, with Turkish warplanes and artillery pounding areas held by pro-Kurdish forces close to Jarablus, the town taken from ISIS by Ankara-backed Syrian rebels earlier this week.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 40 civilians were killed in separate Turkish strikes near the village of al-Amarneh and in Jeb al-Kussa, outside Jarablus – the first reports of significant civilian casualties since the start of Turkey’s operation on Wednesday.
The group, which monitors Syria’s war, also said at least four Kurdish fighters had been killed and 15 wounded in the bombardments south of Jarablus.
But Turkey denied the reports of civilian deaths, saying its raids had killed 25 Kurdish “terrorists”, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.
In a statement, the Turkish armed forces said the air campaign was carried out against “terrorist groups” which had attacked Turkish soldiers supporting a Free Syrian Army (FSA) operation in Jarablus.
Turkey has long accused the YPG of being linked to the outlawed PKK in the southeast of the country. The YPG is the military arm of the Syrian Kurdish PYD political party.
Turkey has ordered the YPG to withdraw to the east bank of the Euphrates River, which crosses the Syria-Turkey border at Jarablus.
“These are areas that Turkey has asked the YPG to pull out of. The YPG insists those areas are part of their own territory, and there’s no way it will pull out. That will likely increase tension,” a journalist said.