UPDATED WITH MORE REMARKS FROM DEPUTY PM, EDITS THROUGHOUT
By Diyar Guldogan and Nilay Kar Onum
ANKARA (AA) - Diplomatic relations between Ankara and Amsterdam have not been suspended, Turkey’s deputy prime minister and government spokesman said Monday.
"The Netherlands did not have an ambassador in Ankara for the past year. They announced that they will officially withdraw a non-existent ambassador,” Bekir Bozdag told reporters after a Cabinet meeting in Ankara.
"This is not a new event for us. It is a declaration of known. However, the diplomatic relations between the Netherlands and Turkey have not been suspended," he said, adding that relations remain at the charge d'affaires level.
His remarks follow a move by the Netherlands earlier on Monday to formally withdraw its ambassador to Turkey over a 2017 row.
Relations between Turkey and the Netherlands soured ahead of a major referendum in Turkey when Dutch authorities canceled the flight permit of a plane carrying Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
The Dutch government also expelled Family and Social Affairs Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya from Rotterdam, blocking her from addressing the Turkish community in the Netherlands before the April 16 vote.
Moreover, rallies organized by Turks there in favor of constitutional changes to shift Turkey to an executive presidential system faced restrictions from both central and local governments.
- Operation Olive Branch
Turning to the Turkish-led Operation Olive Branch in Syria's northwestern Afrin region, Bozdag said Ankara will destroy all kinds of weapon and munition sent to the Afrin region.
“Every type of weapon and munition sent to Afrin is Turkey’s target. We will shoot, destroy or seize wherever we see them,” he said.
In response to a question on whether Russia closed the airspace in Afrin, he said: "Turkish Air Forces are using the airspace in Afrin region effectively. There is no problem over using the airspace right now.”
"We do not expect any problem [over using the airspace] to come out in the future as well," he added.
Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch late last month to remove PYD/PKK and Daesh terrorists from Afrin.
According to the Turkish General Staff, the operation aims to establish security and stability along Turkey’s borders and the region as well as to protect Syrians from terrorist oppression and cruelty.
The operation is being carried out under the framework of Turkey’s rights based on international law, UN Security Council resolutions, its self-defense rights under the UN charter, and respect for Syria's territorial integrity, it said.
Only terrorist targets are being destroyed and "utmost importance" is being put on avoiding harming civilians.
Afrin has been a major hideout for the PYD/PKK since July 2012 when the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria left the city to the terror group without a fight.