UPDATES WITH MORE QUOTES BY ERDOGAN
By Cansu Dikme
ANKARA (AA) - President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday strongly rejected a call by the main opposition leader to establish contact with Syria's Bashar al-Assad.
"He says: 'Sit on a table with Assad and discuss this issue'," he said referring to remarks by Republican People's Party (CHP) head Kemal Kilicdaroglu.
"What will we talk about to a murderer who has killed 1 million of his citizens,” Erdogan said in his address to mukhtars -- heads of Turkish villages and neighborhoods -- at the presidential complex in capital Ankara.
“You can go arm in arm with terrorists when necessary … But, we haven’t so far walked with those taking that path with permission of terror organizations, and we will not walk in the future," he added.
On Tuesday, in his address to his party workers, Kilicdaroglu called on the government to establish contact with the Assad regime to resolve the conflict in Syria.
Erdogan said the ongoing operation in northern Syria will pave the way for refugees, currently being hosted by Turkey, to return home.
“We will solve the Afrin and Idlib issues. We want our refugee brothers to return to their own lands and homes. Surely, we will not keep 3.5 million [Syrians] here [in Turkey] forever. After all, they want to return to their own lands as soon as possible,” Erdogan added.
On Jan. 20, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch to clear PYD/PKK and Daesh terrorists from Afrin, northwestern Syria.
Since the beginning of the operation 1,028 PYD/PKK and Daesh terrorists have been "neutralized" -- a term which denotes the terrorists have either surrendered or been killed, the Turkish military said Thursday.
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 for Syria's territorial integrity, it said.
The military has also said that only terrorist targets are being destroyed and "utmost importance" is being given to not harm any civilians. 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.
The president also criticized the Turkish Medical Association over its attitude towards Turkey’s ongoing operation.
“They are tweeting these days. What is it [they say]: 'We are against Turkey and the concept of Turkishness,'” Erdogan said.
“Why? Because we wanted to remove ‘Turkish’ from the name of Turkish Medical Association. Yes, we want this, because this association has nothing to do with the Turkishness.”
Last week, the association in a statement had questioned the ongoing Operation Olive Branch in Syria's Afrin region.