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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 13 November 2018

Turkey prepares new push against Syria's Kurds: Erdogan 

Announcement comes two days after Turkey shelled Kurdish forces east of Euphrates

Turkish President and leader of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during his party's parliamentary group meeting at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey in Ankara. AFP
Turkish President and leader of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during his party's parliamentary group meeting at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey in Ankara. AFP

Turkey is launching a new military operation against "terrorist groups" east of the Euphrates River, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday, referring to Syrian Kurdish groups.

The announcement comes days after the president issued a "final warning" to "those who would endanger Turkey's borders", saying Ankara was determined to focus its attention on Syrian Kurdish fighters east of the Euphrates.

Ankara will soon launch “more effective operations” against "terror groups" President Erdogan said Tuesday, without specifying what that will entail, Turkey’s pro-government daily Yeni Safak reported.

Earlier on Sunday, Turkey fired artillery shells at a Kurdish militia in Syria that is backed by the United States but deemed a terrorist group by Ankara.

The shells targeted Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) positions east of the Euphrates River in the Kobane region of northern Syria.

Turkey considers the YPG militia an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has led an insurgency in Turkey for more than three decades.

Turkey carried out an offensive against YPG forces in northern Syria's Afrin region earlier this year.

The YPG took control of large areas of northeast Syria in 2012 as government forces pulled out to fight rebels in the west.

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Separately, Turkey pushed-back against Syrian government accusations that it is not meeting its obligations under an agreement to create a demilitarised zone around Idlib, the last rebel-held province in Syria.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al Moualem said on Monday that Turkey was unwilling to implement the agreement forged in September between Russia, President Bashar Al Assad's most powerful ally, and Turkey, which backs the rebels.

The Turkish-Russian agreement established a buffer zone running 15 to 20 km deep into rebel territory that was to be free of heavy weapons and militants by mid-October. But some fighters, including Al Qaeda’s former affiliate in Syria, have yet to withdraw from the area following the deadline.

"The terrorists still exist with their heavy arms in this region and this is an indicator of Turkey's unwillingness to fulfill its obligations," Mr Moualem said in Damascus, according to the Syrian state-run SANA news agency.

Turkey's foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu responded on Tuesday by saying that there are currently no issues obstructing implementation. “Everything is going as planned," Mr Cavusoglu told a news conference in Istanbul.

Mr Cavusoglu also warned that if "terrorists" or radical groups in Idlib displayed a "different approach" to that of the deal struck between Ankara and Moscow, Turkey would intervene.

The Kremlin said Turkey is doing its best to fulfill difficult obligations under the deal.

"We don't see a threat so far... Unfortunately, not everything is going as it was planned," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday.