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Turkey opens up the possibility of a wider conflict should the Syrian army come in direct confrontation with Turkish forces.

Turkey says it aims to form a “safe zone” in Syria to settle many of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees it is hosting. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that the operation would extend from Kobani in the west to Hasaka in the east, and go some 30 km (20 miles) into Syrian territory, with the town of Ras al-Ain now in Turkish control.

Erdogan signaled on Monday that Turkish troops and their Syrian opposition allies are ready to launch an assault on the Syrian-Kurdish held city of Manbij. “We are about to implement our decision on Manbij,” he told reporters.

He added that Turkey’s aim would be to return the city to Arab populations whom he said where its rightful owners.

Earlier, Turkish television reports said Turkey’s forces were preparing for an operation on Manbij and were positioned at the city’s edge.

Turkey also said it seized part of a key highway some 30-35 km into northern Syria. An SDF official said clashes were going on along the road.

Header: Boris Horvat/AFP