Speaking during his visit to Bahrein in a joint press meeting with the country’s Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, Turkish President Erdogan commented on his army’s Euphrates Shield operation in the north of Syria.
Erdogan said, “The step we took [in al-Bab] is locked onto a target. After this if we can take joint steps with coalition forces we will go towards Manbij and Raqqa. There we will form a safe zone in which we will allow for mainly our Arab and Turkmen brothers and sisters to settle into.”
Turkey has been a long-time supporter of forming safe zones in Syria. Until now the idea had not been seriously considered by any of the other major powers invested in the conflict. Recently, however, Donald Trump said that he would “absolutely do safe zones in Syria” which has in turn reignited the discussions of how this could be implemented.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad rejected the proposal for safe zones in the country in an interview recently where he said, “it [safe zones] won’t [protect civilians], it won’t. Safe zones for the Syrians could only happen when you have stability and security, where you don’t have terrorists, where you don’t have [the] flow and support of those terrorists by the neighbouring countries or by Western countries. This is where you can have a natural safe zone, which is our country. They don’t need safe zones at all. It’s not a realistic idea at all.” Russia is also cold on the idea.
Erdogan’s intention of placing “mainly Arabs and Turkmens” in his proposed safe zone will also not go down well with the Kurds, Armenians and Syriacs that live in the region, particularly in Manbij where a multi-ethnic assembly is administering the town after it was taken back from the Islamic State group last year by the multi-ethnic Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).