Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened on Wednesday to launch a new military operation in northern Syria if Kurdish armed groups are not cleared from areas along its border with Syria.
In an address to his ruling party’s legislators in parliament, the Turkish leader also said a Russian air strike that targeted Turkey-backed Syrian rebels in northwest Idlib province earlier this week was an indication that Moscow was not looking for lasting peace in the region.
“If all of the terrorists aren’t removed … as it has been promised to us, I repeat once again that we have a legitimate reason to intervene at any moment. We feel the need to,” Erdogan said.
His comments came days after a suspected Kurdish fighter – who officials said infiltrated Turkey from Syria – blew himself up in a town in the border province of Hatay, following a police chase. Security officials killed a second fighter.
In his first remarks on Monday’s air strike that killed dozens of fighters, Erdogan said: “Russia’s attack targeting the Syrian National Army forces training centre is a sign that a lasting peace and calm is not wanted in the region.”
The attack in the Jabal al-Dweila area, which targeted a military training camp for Failaq al-Sham, one of the largest Turkey-backed armed groups in the area, killed at least 35 people.
It was the deadliest in Idlib, the last rebel-held enclave in Syria, since a Turkish-Russian-brokered truce there came into effect in March.
In Syria, Russia is a main supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, while Turkey backs a handful of opposition factions.
The Turkish-backed National Liberation Front alliance includes 11 Free Syrian Army factions all supported by Ankara. But it excludes Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham, a former al-Qaeda affiliate that currently controls large swaths of the northwestern Syrian province.
Turkey has carried out three major forays into northeastern Syria since 2016 to drive away Kurdish fighters or the armed group ISIL (ISIS) from the border area.
Last year it sent troops to expel Syrian Kurdish fighters it considers “terrorists” from the area and to create a “safe zone” where it hoped to resettle refugees.
Turkey halted the offensive following separate deals with the United States and Russia that promised the withdrawal of the Kurdish militia.