ANKARA (Reuters) - A total of 260,000 Syrian nationals have returned to a swathe of land in northern Syria where Turkey carried out a cross-border operation dubbed "Euphrates Shield", Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Thursday.
Turkey launched Euphrates Shield in 2016 to drive away Islamic State militants and the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia from its border with Syria. Ankara regards the U.S.-backed YPG as a terrorist organisation. The operation ended in 2017.gi
Turkey hosts more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees who fled the conflict in their homeland. Some Turks view them as an economic burden and a threat to jobs.
"As a result of the infrastructure work and security and stability in the region provided by the Turkish Armed Forces, around 260,000 Syrian nationals have returned to the Euphrates Shield Operation area," Akar said in a speech.
Akar also said Turkey's operations in northern Iraq would continue until what he described as the terrorist threat to Turkish territory had ended. He was speaking after a week of airstrikes in the area that have targeted the bases of Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants.
On Tuesday the Turkish military killed seven Kurdish militants in air strikes in northern Iraq as they were preparing to launch an attack on regions were Turkish bases are located, it said in a statement on Twitter.
(Reporting by Tulay Karadeniz, Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun and Sarah Dadouch, Editing by Gareth Jones)