Turkey has no aim to invade Syria during Afrin operation: Erdoğan
Turkey has no aim to invade Syria during its ongoing “Operation Olive Branch” in the northwestern Afrin district of Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said.
“We don’t have our eye on anybody’s land,” he said, speaking to Italian daily La Stampa before his visit to Vatican, Italy on Feb. 4.
The Turkish army has launched a military operation in Afrin “not to fight armed Kurds or because Turkey has a problem with Kurds,” he also said.
The journalist had asked whether the military objective of “Operation Olive Branch” was “to fight against armed Kurdish groups,” but Erdoğan objected to the reporter’s question.
“We have no problem with Syrian Kurds and never will have. Turkey’s struggle is not with Kurds, but with armed terror organizations,” he said, stressing the legal basis for “Operation Olive Branch” as part of Turkey’s right to self-defense enshrined in international law.
He recalled that some groups based in Afrin had fired more than 700 rockets and mortars into Turkish territory.
Erdoğan refuted claims that civilians were killed during “Operation Olive Branch.” The Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) - the militant group Turkey has been fighting in Syria - has been using civilians as human shields, he said, noting that four people have been killed and more than 90 injured in Turkey from rockets fired from the YPG enclave.
Erdoğan and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron discussed on Feb. 3 Turkey’s ongoing “Operation Olive Branch” over the phone, state-run Anadolu Agency quoted a Turkish presidential source as saying.
Sharing information about the military operation, Erdoğan told Macron that the operation aims to clear the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), its armed wing the YPG, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) from Afrin, according to the source.
Erdoğan also said Turkey does not have any designs on the country’s territory.
In addition, the Turkish President spoke to his French counterpart about cross-border rocket attacks perpetrated by the YPG on Turkey’s bordering Hatay and Kilis provinces.
Macron had infuriated Ankara last week when he said the operation in Afrin should not become an excuse to “invade” Syria and that he wanted Ankara to coordinate its actions with its allies.
Eight Turkish soldiers were killed on Feb. 3 during “Operation Olive Branch,” according to a Turkish General Staff statement that marked the deadliest day yet for the Turkish Army since the operation in Syria’s Afrin district began on Jan. 20.
The statement said one soldier was killed in clashes with the YPG and the other in Turkey’s southern province of Kilis in an attack perpetrated by the YPG.
Later on Feb. 3, the Turkish General Staff said five more soldiers had been killed in Sheikh Haruz, northeast of Afrin, when the militants targeted a Turkish army tank.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım expressed his condolences in a statement on Twitter.
“They will pay for this twice as much. We instantly gave the necessary response, and we continue to do so,” Yıldırım said.
Immediately after the attack at Sheikh Haruz, an air operation targeting shelters, hideouts and weapon emplacements in the area was launched at 5.52 p.m. local time.
Another soldier, who was wounded in a missile attack on Feb. 1, succumbed to his wounds at a hospital in southeastern Hakkari province on Feb. 3, according to a security source, who asked not to be named due to restrictions on speaking to the media.
On Feb. 1, one Turkish soldier was killed and five others injured in a missile attack by YPG terrorists which was launched from northern Iraq toward a military base in Hakkari’s border district of Çukurca.
A wide-scale operation has been launched in the region to find the perpetrators, the agency reported.
Turkey launched “Operation Olive Branch” on Jan. 20 along with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) “to clear YPG and ISIL militants” from Afrin in northwestern Syria. Ankara has deemed the YPG a terror group for its links to the outlawed PKK.
The military on Feb. 4 said 932 YPG members were killed in total since the beginning of the operation.
Turkish troops and the FSA on Sunday liberated Haj Bilal village from the YPG as part of “Operation Olive Branch,” Turkish security forces told state-run Anadolu Agency. The village is near the town of Shaykh al-Hadid in the western Afrin district in northern Syria.
The liberated village marks the 32nd location that has been taken from the YPG since Operation Olive Branch began 16 days ago. Earlier on Sunday, Turkish forces and FSA fighters took control of the Haruz hill in northern Afrin, the agency reported.