Erdogan: Turkey will not leave Syria until an election is held

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said his country will not leave Syria until a general election is held in the war-torn Middle-Eastern nation.

“Whenever the Syrian people hold an election, we will leave Syria to its owners,” Erdogan said at the TRT World forum in Istanbul on Thursday.

Turkey sent troops to Syria in August 2016 to clear a border area from fighters belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also referred to as ISIS).

WATCH: Idlib assault on hold as Russia, Turkey agree on buffer zone

It launched another operation earlier this year in the northern Syrian enclave of Afrin to oust Kurdish fighters affiliated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). 

Erdogan agreed with President Vladimir Putin of Russia last month to establish a “demilitarised zone” between rebel and government fighters in northern Syria.

The zone, which will have a depth of 15-20km will see groups deemed radical by Moscow withdraw from the area by October 15. 

Erdogan added on Thursday that Ankara did not encounter difficulties in conducting talks with various rebel factions in northern Syria’s Idlib province, the last major rebel-held stronghold that is 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 believed to be the most powerful armed group in Idlib.

Turkey designated the group a terrorist organisation in August, matching a decision by the United Nations in June.

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

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

Seven-year war

Since the brutal Syrian civil war began in 2011, some 5.6 million people have fled the country, with as many as 6.6 million others internally displaced, according to the United Nation’s refugee agency.

Last week, while addressing the UN General Assembly, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said his country’s “battle against terrorism is almost over” and that it is now ready to welcome the millions who fled back.

Turkey, which backs opposition fighters seeking to overthrow the Syrian government, fears a large-scale offensive against the rebels could trigger a mass exodus towards its border.

As part of its diplomatic efforts to prevent what the UN fears may be a “bloodbath” in Idlib, Turkey has been reaching out to other stakeholder nations.

Later this month, a four-way talk between Turkey, Germany, Russia and France over the Idlib situation is expected to be held after Erdogan made a rare trip to Berlin in September.

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