Turkey 'will not leave' Syria until elections held, Erdogan says

Turkey 'will not leave' Syria until elections held, Erdogan says
President Erdogan's comments follow the Syrian foreign minister demanding foreign troops "leave immediately".
2 min read
05 October, 2018
Turkish troops have a significant presence in the northwest and eastern regions of Syria [Getty]
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said troops will stay in Syria until the Syrian people hold elections.

"Whenever the Syrian people hold an election, we will leave Syria to its owners after they hold their elections," Erdogan said at a forum in Istanbul on Thursday.

Last month, Syrian regime ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey announced a deal to impose a demilitarised zone in rebel-held Idlib, potentially averting a full-scale regime assault on the northwestern province.

Turkey also has a significant presence in the northwest Afrin region and further east, around Jarablus, where it fought to oust Kurdish YPG forces, which Ankara considers a terrorist organisation. Last week Erdogan suggested expanding Turkey's military presence further by creating "secure zones" east of the Euphrates river.

Erdogan also said on Thursday that Turkey is not experiencing difficulty in convening talks with radical groups in Idlib, the last major rebel-held bastion outside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's control.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which includes the al Qaeda-linked group formerly known as Nusra Front, is the most powerful jihadist alliance in Idlib, which Turkey designated a terrorist organisation in August, matching a decision by the United Nations in June.

Under the agreement reached by Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin in a summit in Sochi, all factions in the planned buffer zone must hand over their heavy weapons by 10 October and radical groups must withdraw by 15 October.

On Thursday, Erdogan said that in addition to 12 observation points hosted by Turkey in the area, Russia has 10 observation points and Iran has six.

"Securing this corridor means securing Idlib," he said. "And we have started fortifying our observation posts."

On Wednesday, Turkey's parliament voted to extend by another year a mandate that allows the military to intervene in Iraq and Syria when faced with national security threats, including to battle Kurdish rebels, Islamic State group militants and other groups that Turkey views as terrorists.

It follows Syria's foreign minister on Saturday denouncing US, French and Turkish forces operating in his country as "occupying forces" and demanding that they leave immediately.

More than 360,000 people have died and millions displaced from their homes since the regime responded to anti-Assad protests in 2011 with brutal repression.