Western threats won't stop Turkey's operation in Syria: Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says threats of sanctions and arms embargoes by Western powers will not halt his country’s cross-border military offensive against Kurdish militants in Syria’s northeast.

“After we launched our operation, we have faced threats like economic sanctions and embargoes on weapons sales. Those who think they can make Turkey turn back with these threats are gravely mistaken,” the Turkish president said in a televised speech on Sunday.

The Turkish president said he spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel by phone on Wednesday to discuss the issue of the arms embargo.

“I told her to explain it to me. Are we really allies at the heart of NATO, or has the terrorist group (the YPG) been accepted into NATO without my being informed?” he said.

Erdogan also rejected the idea of any mediation between Turkey and the YPG, saying, “When did you see a state sit at the same table with a terror group?”

Erdogan’s comments came four days after Turkish military forces and the Turkish-backed militants launched a cross-border invasion of northeast Syria in a declared attempt to push Kurdish militants from the so-called People’s Protection Units (YPG) away from border areas.

Ankara views the US-backed YPG as a terrorist organization tied to the homegrown Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group, which has been involved in armed separatism in Turkey since 1984.

US, EU threaten to impose sanctions against Turkey

On Friday, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that American President Donald Trump had ordered US officials to draft “very significant” new sanctions against Turkey and its leaders over the military operation, adding that banks were already being notified.

He added that Washington was not activating the sanctions at the time but would do so if necessary.

Late on Friday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry, in response to possible US sanctions, said in a statement that Ankara would retaliate “any step” taken against its efforts to fight terrorism.

On Thursday, Erdogan vowed to flood Europe with 3.6 million Syrian refugees, housed in Turkey for the past several years, if the European Union (EU) kept condemning Turkey’s operation and branding it as an invasion.

However, EU states, for their part, threatened to impose sanctions on Turkey over the offensive in the Arab country, angrily rejecting Erdogan’s refugee threat.

France and Germany on Saturday threatened that they were suspending arms exports to Turkey over its ongoing operation in Syria.

Turkey plans to create a 32-kilometer “safe zone” in northeast Syria, clear it from the presence of Kurdish militants, and relocate one million Syrian refugees there.

Elsewhere in his remarks on Sunday, Erdogan said that the Turkish military forces and the militants accompanying them would advance 30-35 kilometers into Syrian territory and that they had already managed to seize control of the town of Ras al-Ayn.

Turkey’s National Defense Ministry, in a brief statement, also said on Sunday that the Turkish-led forces had completely sized Ras al-Ayn.

More Syrian towns, villages being overrun by Turkish-led forces

The Turkish president further said that Turkish-led forces had also besieged the Syrian border town of Tel Abyad, adding that so far, two Turkish soldiers and 16 accompanying militants had been killed in the operation.

The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-Damascus organization that reports on the Syrian conflict, said Turkey and its allies were in almost complete control of Tel Abyad, which is one of the main focal points of the Turkish-led operation.

Furthermore, Syria’s official news agency SANA confirmed on Sunday that the Turkish-led forces had occupied the villages of al-Dweira, Harobi, and Raj’an, and the Mabrouka power plant in Ras al-Ayn countryside and the town of Suluk in Raqqah’s northeastern countryside.

It said they had also entered the headquarters of the so-called General Security of the Kurdish-led militants in Tel Abyad.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency also reported on Sunday that the number of villages in northern Syria “liberated” from the YPG and PKK groups had risen to 42, adding that the FSA forces were combing the areas to ensure safety.

Additionally on Sunday, Turkey’s National Defense Ministry said that the Turkish-led forces had taken control of the key M4 highway in northern Syria.

The ministry had said on Friday that 480 “terrorists” had been “neutralized” since the beginning of the operation.

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