UPDATES WITH MORE QUOTES FROM ERDOGAN
By Muhammet Emin Avundukluoglu
ANKARA (AA) - The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is not a terrorist group, but a national organization that is defending its homeland, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday.
Addressing lawmakers from the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party, Erdogan slammed the main opposition, Republican People's Party's (CHP), for calling the FSA “a terrorist organization”.
"The FSA is not a terrorist group, but a national organization that has people from different ethnicities who have the spirit to defend their homeland," the president said.
He said Turkish soldiers and the FSA were jointly fighting against the YPG/PKK terrorist organization.
"A total of 16 fighters of FSA have been martyred and 100 others wounded during Operation Olive Branch," he added.
Erdogan also thanked the Syrians living in Turkey who applied to the army for participation in the Afrin operation.
Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch on Jan. 20 to clear PYD/PKK and Daesh terrorists from Afrin in northwestern Syria.
According to the 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 decisions, self-defense rights under the UN Charter and respect for Syria's territorial integrity.
Since the beginning of the operation, 20 rockets have hit Kilis, killing two civilians and injuring 21 others.
The president reiterated that Turkey respects Syrian's territorial integrity. "We do not have eyes on anybody's territory."
Erdogan vowed Turkey would "resolutely" continue to fight against terrorism in the interest of securing its southern borders.
About when Operation Olive Branch would end, Erdogan said: "We will never stop until the terror threat along our borders completely disappears and nearly 3.5 million Syrians in our country return safely to their homes.
"It is up to the terrorists whether they empty their locations [in the Afrin operation area]. We will continue to advance on the terrorists without looking at their partners."