By Sarp Ozer
ANKARA (AA) - A total of 342 terrorists have been “neutralized” since the start of Operation Peace Spring in northern Syria, Turkey's defense minister said on Friday.
Hulusi Akar's comments came after his meeting with top military officials in Turkey's capital Ankara, where he said "every kind of measures have been taken" in operation areas.
"Our aim is to end the existence of terrorists -- especially Daesh, PKK/PYD-YPG -- east of the Euphrates River and establish a peace corridor to assure our Syrian brothers' return to their own lands, homes," Akar said.
The meeting saw the attendance of Chief of the Turkish General Staff Gen. Yasar Guler, Land Forces Commander Umit Dundar, Naval Forces Commander Adnan Ozbal, and Air Forces Commander Hasan Kucukakyuz.
Akar said Operation Peace Spring continues "successfully as planned."
"We give the utmost importance to not only the security of our country and people, but also to the ethnic groups -- Kurdish, Arabic, Assyrian, Christian, Ezidis and Keldani people -- as well," he said.
- Operation Peace Spring
Turkey on Wednesday launched Operation Peace Spring east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria to secure its borders and Syria’s territorial integrity by eliminating terrorist elements and to ensure the safe return of Syrian refugees.
Turkey has said the PKK terrorist group and its extension the YPG/PYD constitute the biggest threat to Syria’s future, jeopardizing the country’s territorial integrity and unitary structure.
Ankara has also stressed that supporting terrorists under the pretext of fighting Daesh is unacceptable.
Turkey has a 911-kilometer (566-mile) border with Syria and has long decried the threat from terrorists east of the Euphrates River and the formation of a “terrorist corridor” there.
Turkey plans to resettle 2 million Syrians in a 30-km (19-mile) wide proposed safe zone in Syria stretching from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border, including Manbij. However, the presence of terror groups such as the PKK, PYD and YPG risk its formation.
Turkey has freed an area of 4,000 square km (1,544 square miles) in Syria from terrorist groups in two separate cross-border operations.
Since 2016, Turkey has conducted two major military operations in northwestern Syria -- Operation Euphrates Shield and Operation Olive Branch -- to eradicate threats from Daesh and the YPG, which is the Syrian branch of the PKK terrorist group.
The two operations were in line with the country’s right to self-defense borne out of international law, UN Security Council resolutions, especially no. 1624 (2005), 2170 (2014) and 2178 (2014), and under the right to self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter while being respectful of Syria’s territorial integrity.
During Operation Euphrates Shield, Turkish forces neutralized 3,060 Daesh terrorists.
Turkey has suffered greatly from Daesh attacks inside the country.
More than 300 people have been killed in attacks claimed by Daesh in Turkey, where the terrorist group has targeted civilians in suicide bombings and armed attacks in recent years.
In its more than 30-year terror of campaign against Turkey, the PKK – listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union -- has been responsible for the deaths of some 40,000 people, including women, children and infants.