President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that Turkey would “clear terrorists” on its border in northern Syria if Syrian Kurdish militia did not withdraw by the end of a deadline agreed with Russia.
“If the terrorists are not cleared at the end of the 150 hours, we will take control and clean it ourselves,” Erdogan said during a televised speech in Istanbul, referring to the YPG militia viewed as a “terrorist” offshoot of Kurdish insurgents in Turkey.
Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed on a deal in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Tuesday in which Moscow will “facilitate the removal” of the fighters and their weapons from within 30 kilometres (18 miles) of the border.
The deadline ends at 6pm local time (1500 GMT) on Tuesday.
Despite his threat, Erdogan said Turkey had “to a large extent” reached its goal in terms of setting up a “safe zone” to protect against attacks from the Islamic State (IS) extremist group and the Kurdish YPG militia.
Turkey has repeatedly criticised American support to the YPG, who spearheaded the fight against IS under the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) banner.
For Ankara, the YPG is as dangerous as the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
The PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by Ankara, the US and the European Union.
Erdogan also urged the international community to support Turkey’s wish to set up a “safe zone” for some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.
“If there is no support for the projects we are developing for between one and two million in the first stage for their return, we will have no option but to open our doors, and let them go to Europe,” he warned.
After similar threats were accused of being blackmail, Erdogan insisted he was “not blackmailing anyone” but “putting forward a solution”.
Earlier this month, Turkey and the US reached an agreement on the YPG’s withdrawal from a 120-kilometre zone between Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain following the Turkish military’s operation supporting Syrian proxies against the Kurdish fighters began on October 9.
The US said this had been completed and in return, Ankara agreed to halt its offensive.