By Faruk Zorlu and Zehra Nur Duz
ANKARA (AA) – Turkish airstrikes and howitzers hit 181 terror targets as part of Operation Peace Spring in northern Syria, said Defense Ministry on Thursday.
Ankara launched on Wednesday the operation east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria to secure its borders by eliminating terror elements, and to ensure the safe return of Syrian refugees and Syria’s territorial integrity.
Turkish troops along with the Syrian National Army began the military operation at 4 p.m. local time (1300GMT) against the Daesh and PKK terror group and its Syrian offshoot PYD-YPG.
Earlier, the ministry asserted that the Turkish military targets only terrorists, their shelters, positions, weapons, tools and equipment, while attention and sensitivity are shown to prevent the damages to civilians and historical, cultural, religious structures, infrastructure facilities and elements of friendly and allied countries.
Turkey has said the terrorist group PKK and its extension the YPG/PYD constitute the biggest threat to Syria’s future, jeopardizing the country’s territorial integrity and unitary structure. It 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 it has long decried the threat from terrorists east of the Euphrates and the formation of a “terrorist corridor” there.
Turkey plans to resettle 2 million Syrians in a 30-km-wide (19-mi) safe zone to be set up 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 rid an area of 4,000 square km (1,544 square miles) in Syria of terrorist groups in two separate cross-border operations. Since 2016, Turkey has conducted two major military operations in northwestern Syria -- Operation Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch -- to purge the region of the terrorist groups Daesh and the YPG, which is the Syrian branch of the terrorist group PKK.
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 campaign against Turkey, the PKK -- listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU -- has been responsible for the deaths of some 40,000 people, including women, children, and infants.