ANKARA: Turkey will not leave Syria until other countries pull out, President Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying on Friday, and Ankara will continue its cross-border offensive against Kurdish fighters until every one of them has left the region.

Turkey launched its third military incursion into northeast Syria last month to drive Kurdish YPG fighters from its border and establish a “safe zone” where it aims to settle up to 2 million Syrian refugees.

After seizing a 120-km swathe of land along the border, Turkey struck deals with the United States and Russia to keep the Kurdish militia out of that area.

Speaking to reporters on his flight home from a trip to Hungary, Erdogan said Turkey would only leave Syria once other countries have left as well, adding that the Turkish offensive would continue until all militants leave the area.

“We will not let up until every last terrorist leaves the region,” Erdogan said, referring to the YPG, the main component of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that Ankara views as a terrorist organisation.

“We will not leave here until the other countries get out,” he was cited as saying by broadcaster NTV.

Ankara began its offensive after Trump announced an abrupt withdrawal of 1,000 US troops from northern Syria last month. The US president has since said that some troops will continue to operate there.

Under its deals with Washington and Moscow, Ankara paused its offensive in return for the withdrawal of the YPG fighters. While US and Russian officials have said the Kurdish fighters have left the region, Erdogan on Thursday accused Russia and the United States of not fulfilling their part.

With the deal Ankara struck with Moscow, Turkish and Russian troops have been holding joint patrols along the Turkish border with Syria. On Friday, the troops completed a third patrol, but a spokesman for the SDF said Turkish troops had used tear gas against some civilians protesting against the patrols.

Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2019

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