By Nilay Kar Onum
ISTANBUL (AA) - Turkey does not have any intention to occupy any part of Syria, Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Saturday.
"There will be no interest in occupying any part of Syria,” Kalin told reporters from various media outlets -- including CNN, BBC, AFP, Daily Sabah, TRT World and Anadolu Agency -- in Istanbul.
“Once the operation is completed, we will return the area back to the people of Afrin. They will be liberated from YPG and PYD elements there as well,”
He said the operation in Syria’s northwestern Afrin region has been going on as planned. “We’ve made good progress so far in regards to Afrin, the Olive Branch Operation.”
The presidential spokesman said the operation had three goals: securing the Turkish border, clearing the Syrian territories from the terrorist organizations and ensuring territorial integrity of Syria.
“Everybody knows from the very beginning that PYD and YPG are the PKK. It is the same structure,” he reiterated.
“They [YPG and PYD], have been a threat to our borders. We are still urging the Americans to stop working with them,” he added.
- No civilian casualties
“We have managed to avoid civilian casualties so far. Local people are being helped by AFAD [Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency], the Turkish Red Crescent, and other agencies,” Kalin said. “Our military is very careful about this issue.”
“On the ground, we have no reports from our sources that there are civilian casualties,” he stressed.
He noted that a “propaganda war” was launched against Operation Olive Branch and the pictures from other conflict areas were circulating on social media to discredit the operation.
“I think people should be careful about the PKK propaganda on this issue,” he said.
Kalin also rejected claims that Turkish army has been using napalm bombs during the operation.
“We don’t have such bombs. The bombs or attacks destroyed some historical sites, some churches, some monuments or something, which is just not true,” he added.
- International reaction ‘welcoming’
The presidential spokesman said the international reaction has been positive in regards to the operation.
“No one questions the legitimacy of the operation. Overall, as I said, the support has been rather good and welcome.”
Regarding the Sochi conference on Tuesday, he said: “We are still working on a plan for a political transition in Syria. It is not an easy task but it is the primary or ultimate goal of all these operations.”
He welcomed an agreement to form a committee to work on a new constitution for Syria during the Sochi talks.
The guarantor countries -- Russia, Iran and Turkey -- had agreed to gather for Syrian peace talks in southern Russian city of Sochi this week. Previous high-level meetings in Astana, Kazakhstan, paved the way for the congress in Sochi.
“There is still work to do. We are trying to maintain peace and security on the ground but also we are trying to push things to move forward through the negotiations at the same time. Obviously, it is not easy, it is a very complicated issue as you know.”
Speaking about the formation of monitoring positions in Idlib, which is a part of de-escalation zones, he said: “We are establishing 12 monitoring positions as part of the Astana process. We’ve established five. We are working on the sixth one now. There were some misunderstandings, miscommunications at some point but I think we’ve overcome that now.”
“We will try our best to complete them as soon as possible so that we can secure the Idlib area in the way we discussed and decided at the last Astana meeting,” he added.
Speaking about Turkey’s position on Syria’s future he said: “We do not believe he [Bashar al-Assad] is the leader to unite Syria. He has lost his legitimacy and ability to keep Syria together after committing all the crimes.”
“There will be a new constitution and there will be an election [in Syria]. That is the goal. It is not going to be easy but that is the ultimate goal.”
- No deal with Russia
Responding to a question regarding a potential deal with Russia over Afrin, the presidential spokesman said there was no such agreement. “There is no deal with Russia [that] you give Idlib and take Afrin […]”
Stating that there was no "timeline" for the operation, the presidential aide said: “It will continue as long as it is necessary.”
In response to a question on whether Turkey expects civilian influx into the Turkish border in the wake of the operation, he said: “We are not expecting any refugee influx at the moment. […] We are expecting a move towards Afrin, actually.”
On Jan. 20, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch to remove PYD/PKK and Daesh terrorists from Afrin.
According to Turkish General Staff, the operation aims to establish security and stability along Turkish borders and the region as well as to protect the Syrian people from the oppression and cruelty of terrorists.
The operation is being carried out under the framework of Turkey’s rights based on international law, UN Security Council’s decisions, self-defense rights under the UN charter and respect to Syria's territorial integrity, it said.
The military also said the "utmost importance" was being given to not harm any civilian.
Afrin has been a major hideout for the PYD/PKK since July 2012 when the Assad regime in Syria left the city to the terror group without putting up a fight.