ADDS DETAILS THROUGHOUT
By Sarp Ozer
IZMIR, Turkey (AA) - Turkey's Joint Operation Center with the U.S. has begun operating at full capacity, said Turkish Defense Minister on Saturday.
"Field applications of the first phase started," said Hulusi Akar in the Aegean province Izmir, adding that the first joint helicopter flight between the two NATO allies would be taking place in the afternoon.
"In addition, the destruction of terrorist emplacements and fortifications began," Akar stressed, with the first drone having flown to the region on Aug. 14.
Turkish and U.S. military officials on Aug. 7 agreed to set up a safe zone and develop a peace corridor to facilitate the movement of displaced Syrians, who seek to return their home. They also agreed to establish a joint operation center.
The agreement also envisaged to set up the necessary security measures to address Turkey's security concerns.
Referring to the Turkish cross-border operations, Akar said a total of 654 terrorists were neutralized over the last eight months in northern Iraq.
Highlighting that 64 terrorists in Operation Claw 1 and 16 in Operation Claw 2 were neutralized in the Hakurk region, he reiterated Turkey’s resolve in countering terrorism.
He added that Operation Claw 3, launched on Friday in the Sinat-Haftanin region, continued successfully.
Speaking on recent activities in the town of Khan Shaykhun, Idlib province in northwestern Syria, he said: "The [Bashar al-Assad] regime’s declaration of the Khan Shaykhun town 'theater of operations', closing the region to the entrance and exit and carrying out operations are absolutely against the agreements on Idlib."
On Thursday, the Assad regime took control of the town of Khan Shaykhun with support of Iranian-backed foreign terrorist groups and Russian special forces.
Akar added that despite Turkey’s call on Russia to put a stop to violations, the Russia-backed Syrian regime continued to attack vulnerable civilians.
Referring to Turkish observation posts in Idlib in northwestern Syria, Akar underlined that Turkey would use its right of self defense in full if an attack were to occur on Turkish observatory posts and presence in the region.
Turkey and Russia agreed last September to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone where acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.
The Syrian regime and its allies, however, have consistently broken the terms of the cease-fire, launching frequent attacks inside the zone.
The de-escalation zone is currently home to some 4 million civilians, including hundreds of thousands displaced in recent years by regime forces from throughout the war-weary country.
Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011, when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.
Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and more than 10 million others displaced, according to UN officials.
*Writing by Gozde Bayar