Turkish president points at Syria’s Manbij as first target, eyes Raqqa afterwards
Manbij is Turkey’s first priority as part of its Euphrates Shield Operation, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said, adding that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) capital, Raqqa, would be the second target if Turkey and the United States can agree.
“We, in Syria, together with our brothers there, have given and continue to give the struggle of our liberty and future. Now we are in al-Bab and al-Bab is surrounded from near and far. God willing [inshallah] our job there is over, or about to be over. The real owners will come and settle there,” Erdoğan said Dec. 24 in Istanbul during an opening ceremony.
Turkish troops along with Ankara-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels have been fighting for al-Bab against ISIL for over one month and clashes intensified last week, during which time at least 16 Turkish soldiers died.
“Next is Manbij,” the president said.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, comprised mainly of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Party Union (PYD) and its military wing, the People’s Protection Unit (YPG), along with Syrian Arabs, liberated Manbij from ISIL in early August.
Turkey launched the Euphrates Shield operation on Aug. 24, in order to free its border of terrorist organizations, which not only include ISIL but also the PYD and YPG. Turkey considers both of the PYD and YPG as terror organizations, due to their ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The U.S., on the other hand, regards the PYD and YPG as “reliable” partners in the fight against ISIL in Syria, even though it also designates the PKK as a terrorist organization.
“After Manbij, comes Raqqa if we can collaborate with the United States in the new era,” said Erdoğan, referring to U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration as the new president of the U.S. on Jan. 20, 2017.
“I call on the ones who say ‘why should we bother about the world?’ We live in this world. Turkey is a global power; you should know this,” said Erdoğan.
A total of 80 ISIL militants were “neutralized” within the scope of the Euphrates Shield operation over the weekend, the Turkish Army said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, welcomed the “Syrian army’s victory against the terrorists in Aleppo” during a late-night phone call, Iranian media reported Dec. 25.
“The Syrian army’s victory sends a message that the terrorists cannot achieve their objectives. We must stop terrorists using the cease-fire to rebuild their forces and create new bases in other regions of Syria,” Rouhani said following the call on the night of Dec. 24, according to a statement published by state media, according to AFP.
Putin also welcomed the defeat of rebel forces in Syria’s second city and said cooperation between Tehran and Moscow “will continue.”
They said peace talks would take place in Kazakhstan, without providing further details.
In Aleppo, two people were killed Dec. 24 in a blast at an ammunitions warehouse formerly used by rebels, state media reported.
State news agency SANA said the explosion took place at a school that had been transformed into “an ammunitions and explosive devices warehouse left behind by terrorist groups in the Sukkari neighborhood.”
Citing a police source, it said another 33 people were wounded in the blast, four of them critically, but did not specify whether they were civilians or government troops.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group also reported two killed in the Sukkari warehouse, but said the blast took place as army troops were dismantling explosives.
Activists from across Europe are set to begin Dec. 26 a nearly 3,000-kilometer trek from Berlin to war-battered Aleppo, via Turkey, with the goal of promoting immediate and unhindered humanitarian access to all besieged areas in Syria.
Polish blogger and journalist Anna Alboth called on everybody to join the start of the walk in Berlin to show European politicians how much the unfolding humanitarian tragedy in Syria means to them.