ANKARA – Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged to “open doors” for Syrian refugees to Europe if the EU decides to refer to the Turkish military operation in northeast Syria as an occupation.
“We are under the threat of terrorist attacks, and we have 3.5 million Syrian refugees who cannot return to their homeland,” Erdogan said during a speech to lawmakers from his AK Party on Thursday, RIA Novosti reported.
He lashed out at those who “have never seen” Kurdish Self-Defence Forces” and who “tell Ankara to step aside”.
“The EU has never been sincere, and they have repeatedly deceived us. If they say that this operation is an occupation on our part, we will open the doors for refugees [to Europe],” Erdogan warned.
He also claimed that Turkey’s military operation would add to Syria’s territorial integrity by tackling Kurdish forces’ efforts to take control of the Arab country’s northeastern areas. The remarks come after European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said that Ankara “must cease the ongoing military operation” in the area.
“It will not work. And if Turkey’s plan is to create a security zone, do not expect funding from the European Union,” Juncker told the European Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday.
He spoke as the EU rejected Turkish plans for a safe zone for refugees, pointing out that the bloc “calls upon Turkey to cease the unilateral military action” in Syria.
“It is unlikely that a so-called ‘safe zone’ in northeast Syria, as envisaged by Turkey, would satisfy international criteria for refugee return”, the EU said in a joint statement by the 28 member-states.
Earlier on Wednesday, Erdogan announced the beginning of his ‘Operation Peace Spring’ in northern Syria against Kurdish groups and Daesh (ISIL or ISIS) terrorists. Erdogan added the goal of the operation is to neutralize terror threats against Turkey and establish a safe zone in the area.
In the latest development, the Turkish Defence Ministry reported about its military attacks on 181 targets in Syria’s north, while media reports claim that at least eight civilians were killed and 20 others injured in Turkey’s shelling of Syria’s border towns. Turkey sees Kurdish forces in Syria as an extension of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which has been classified by Ankara as a terrorist organization.
Damascus does not recognize the Autonomous Administration of northern and eastern Syria, which controls the territories east of the Euphrates River. Syrian authorities have also repeatedly condemned what they described as Turkey’s occupation policy in northern Syria.