By Diyar Guldogan
Ankara will never allow a safe zone in Syria to be transformed into "another swamp" against Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday.
"We can never allow an implementation of a safe zone [to be established in northern Syria] to be transformed into another swamp against our country," Erdogan said at a meeting of the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB) in the capital Ankara.
Erdogan said Ankara was not against the formation of a 30-kilometer (20-mile) safe zone in northern Syria near Turkey’s border, adding the aim of a safe zone should be to keep terrorist organizations away from Turkey's border.
The president said Turkey is not eyeing Syria's territorial integrity, adding he will also discuss the issue with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow in the upcoming days.
About a possible Turkish military operation East of the Euphrates River, Erdogan said almost all preparations have been completed.
Erdogan said those who urged Turkey not to enter Afrin last year intended to keep Turkey away from the area for some "preparations".
"We experienced the same thing during Operation Euphrates Shield. We saw clearly when we took control of these areas -- that those who occupied our time for so long just aimed to ram though our borders using terror groups like Daesh, PKK and YPG."
He said the same problem was being faced in Manbij these days and "those who constantly try to keep Turkey away from these areas actually aim to strengthen the terrorist groups."
Erdogan accused "those who stay silent against powers and terrorist groups that rip Syria apart and voice their grievances against Turkey's presence in the region" of being a part of this game.
A mission east of the Euphrates River, which Turkey’s leadership has been suggesting for months, would follow two successful cross-border Turkish operations into Syria since 2016 -- Operations Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch -- meant to eradicate the presence of YPG/PKK and Daesh terrorists near Turkey’s borders.
In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK -- listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU -- has been responsible for the deaths of some 40,000 people, including women and children. The YPG is its Syrian branch.
Turkish leader added that "it is not possible to be safe without being powerful" and pointed to his country's crossborder operations in Syria and Iraq.
"Like its ancestors, Turkey believes that safety starts not at its borders but from beyond its borders."
"Those who have carried out even the slightest attack on our country, will pay a heavy price. In particular Daesh, YPG, PYD, all of them will pay a heavy price," Erdogan said.