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At G20 meeting, Turkey pushes plan for ‘safe zone’ in Syria

Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday he had urged world powers at a G20 meeting to set up a “safe zone” in Syria where there would be no fighting and which could help stem migrant flows from the Arab nation.

Speaking in China, Erdogan said he had repeated a proposal for a “no-fly zone” in Syria during his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama.

Turkey, which hosts 3 million Syrian refugees, has long pushed for a safe zone to protect civilians but has found little appetite among Western allies, who fear such a move would involve a deeper military commitment.

In a bid to protect its border, Turkey launched an incursion into northern Syria almost two weeks ago, and has since cleared Islamic State and Kurdish militia fighters from a 90km stretch of territory. Ankara, fighting a Kurdish insurgency at home, calls both groups terrorist organisations.

“The Syrian citizens in our country and those would want to migrate from Syria can now find the opportunity to live more peacefully in their own land and their own houses,” Erdogan said of the area cleared of militants.

“A no-fly zone could be set up there, and that was my suggestion to both Obama and Putin. This could be achieved with the coalition forces. We are in an effort to take this step,” he told a news conference.

Turkey proposed such a “safe zone”, which would stretch roughly 40km deep into Syria, at last year’s G20 meeting in the Turkish city of Antalya, but without success. An internationally-policed no-fly zone would be needed to protect the area from aerial bombardment.

“At the Antalya summit, we persistently told all leaders that we could solve the migrant crisis by setting up a safe zone,” Erdogan said in China. “Now at this summit too, we have brought up this issue with all our friends.”

The Turkish president also said he was working with US-led coalition forces and Russia to establish a ceasefire in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo before the Eid al-Adha religious holiday expected to start around Sept. 11.

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