Erdogan says Turkey will launch Syria land operation when convenient
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By Nevzat Devranoglu and Ali Kucukgocmen
ANKARA (Reuters) - President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that Turkey's air operations against a Kurdish militia in northern Syria were just the beginning and would launch a land operation when appropriate after an escalation in retaliatory strikes.
He said Turkey is more determined than ever to secure its southern border with a "security corridor" while ensuring the territorial integrity of both Syria and Iraq, where it has also conducted operations against Kurdish militants.
"We will continue the air operation and will take tough action against the terrorists from the land at the most convenient time for us," Erdogan told MPs from his AKP party in a speech in parliament.
"We have formed part of this corridor (and) will take care of it, starting with places like Tel Rifat, Manbij and Ain al-Arab (Kobani) which are the causes of problems," he added.
Turkey and its Syrian rebel proxies seized control of border areas to the west and east of the Kobani region in previous military incursions.
Russia has asked Turkey to refrain from a full-scale ground offensive in Syria, senior Russian negotiator Alexander Lavrentyev said Wednesday after a new round of talks on Syria with Turkish and Iranian delegations in Kazakhstan.
Meanwhile, the United States has expressed serious concern to Turkey, a NATO ally, about the escalation's impact on the goal of fighting Islamic State fighters in Syria.
Turkey has previously launched military incursions into Syria against the Kurdish YPG militia, viewing them as a wing of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which Turkey, the United States and the European Union have labeled a terrorist group.
Ankara launched air operations over the weekend in retaliation for a bomb attack in Istanbul a week earlier that killed six people and which it blamed on the YPG. No one has claimed responsibility and the PKK and YPG have denied involvement.
KOBANI SEEN AS A TARGET
Turkey's Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said the army had hit 471 targets in Syria and Iraq since the weekend. His ministry quoted him as saying 254 militants had been "neutralized," a term commonly used for vile killings.
YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) commander Mazloum Abdi said in an interview with news website Al-Monitor that his hometown of Kobani would be the "true target" of any ground offensive, as it is for Turkey from strategic to connect areas of Syria it already controls.
He criticized a "weak response" by Russia and Washington to the Turkish airstrikes.
The United States has allied itself with the SDF in its fight against ISIS in Syria, leading to a deep rift with Turkey.
(Reporting by Nevzat Devranoglu, Ali Kucukgocmen and Huseyin Hayatsever, Tamara Vaal in Astana; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, Nick Macfie, William Maclean, Alexandra Hudson)
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