Turkey had finalised preparations to create more safe areas in Syria, which would allow the return of refugees who have fled the civil war. President Tayyip Erdogan said that at his AK Party’s provincial headquarters in the Black Sea city of Trabzon, Reuters reported. A quarter of a million people had already returned to liberated areas in Syria.
“God willing soon we will have liberated more places and made more areas safe,” he said.
Erdogan said diplomatic and military efforts in Syria's Idlib province had been accelerated to avoid a "catastrophe" like those seen in other parts of Syria.
Turkey is host to 2.7 million refugees from Syria.
Turkey is carrying out an offensive in northern Syria’s Afrin region against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara considers a terrorist organization linked to Kurdish militants waging an insurgency on Turkish soil.
The Afrin campaign is Turkey’s second cross-border operation during Syria’s seven-year-old civil war. The first, dubbed “Euphrates Shield”, targeted Islamic State and Kurdish fighters further east than Afrin, and was completed in early 2017.
In January 2018, the Turkish military launched an Olive Branch military operation in the SDF-controlled Afrin District and the Tell Rifaat Subdistrict. The offensive was against the Kurdish-led Democratic Union Party in Syria (PYD), its armed wing People's Protection Units (YPG), and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) positions surrounding the Syrian city of Afrin. Turkey has also said that it is fighting ISIL.
On 18 March, the Turkish-backed forces had taken full control of the centre of Afrin city. With the capture, many civilians fled from the Turkish-backed rebels who then looted the homes and businesses of the local population after their departure.
It was the first major military operation by Turkey in Syria since Operation Euphrates Shield.