Turkey tells Kurds to leave Syria's Manbij or face attack
Turkey has threatened to strike Syrian Kurdish forces if they do not withdraw from the northern city of Manbij near the Turkish border.
"We have said before we will strike the YPG if they do not retreat" from Manbij, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told journalists in Ankara on Thursday, referring to the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG).
Ankara views the YPG as a terrorist organization over its alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), but Washington supports the group and uses it in its operations in Syria.
The so-called Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), which are led by the YPG, captured Manbij in August 2016 with the help of the US military.
Cavusoglu said once the capture of the Syrian city of al-Bab is complete, Manbij would be the next target of the Turkish troops. Turkey said in late February that its armed forces and allied militants were almost in full control of al-Bab.
Cavusoglu added that despite skirmishes between pro-Ankara militants and Kurdish forces, the Manbij operation had not started yet. He also renewed calls for the new US administration to abandon its support for Kurdish forces operating in Syria.
Kurds to give Manbij villages to Damascus
Meanwhile, an official from the Manbij Military Council announced that the body would hand over villages under its control to the Syrian government in the coming days.
The council, which is part of the SDF, said the handover will be made possible under a deal agreed with Russia in a bid to avoid clashes, adding that its forces would withdraw from the frontline as rival Turkish-backed militants come closer to the Euphrates River.
Cavusoglu, however, claimed that there was no such agreement between Russia and Syrian Kurds.
Turkey launched its incursion into Syria in August 2016, sending tanks and warplanes across the border in what was condemned by Damascus as an act of aggression.
Ankara claimed its military campaign was aimed at pushing Daesh from Turkey's border with Syria and stopping the advance of Kurdish forces.
Turkey is one of the key countries in the Syria conflict, which has raged on since March 2011, allowing militants from around the world to freely enter the Arab nation and wreak havoc there.