ADDS MORE REMARKS OF NATIONAL DEFENSE MINISTER
By Mehmet Tosun and Sarp Ozer
ANKARA (AA) - Turkey has never used banned arms in its anti-terror operation in northern Syria, the country's defense minister said Thursday.
"Turkey didn't use and will not use any ammunition or chemical weapons prohibited by international law and agreements," Hulusi Akar said, referring to Operation Peace Spring launched to eliminate terrorists from northern Syria, east of the Euphrates River.
Akar, who was addressing the parliament, said around 1,200 terrorists have been neutralized since the launch of the operation.
He said that as part of Operation Peace Spring, 4,300 square kilometers (1,660 square miles) area and 600 settlements have been taken under control, while checkpoints were installed along the strategic M-4 highway.
The minister noted that some 158 members of terrorist organizations were also neutralized since Turkey launched Operation Claw in northern Iraq.
Authorities often use the word “neutralized” in statements to imply terrorists in question surrendered or were killed or captured.
Turkey on Oct. 9 launched Operation Peace Spring to eliminate YPG/PKK terrorists from northern Syria, east of the Euphrates River in order to secure Turkey’s borders, aid in the safe return of Syrian refugees and ensure Syria’s territorial integrity.
Ankara reached two separate deals with Washington and Moscow last month, according to which it agreed to pause its operation to allow YPG/PKK terrorists to withdraw from the planned safe zone, where Turkey wants to repatriate millions of Syrian refugees it is currently hosting.
On May 27, Turkey launched Operation Claw against the YPG/PKK in the Hakurk region of northern Iraq, followed by its second and third phases in July and late August.
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 over 40,000 people, including women, children, and infants. The YPG is the PKK's Syrian offshoot.
- Eastern Mediterranean
Akar underlined that Turkey will never tolerate the violation of its rights or allow efforts aimed at isolating Turkey form the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean Sea.
The minister also "strongly condemned" the burning of a flag of Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) during protests in the Greek Cypriot side.
"These racist attacks will never prevent the TRNC flag from fluttering on the island," he said.
TRNC was established on Nov. 15, 1983, almost a decade after Turkey’s 1974 Cyprus Peace Operation on the island, which stopped persecution and violence against Turkish Cypriots by ultra-nationalist Greek Cypriots. Turkey remains as the guarantor for the TRNC.
- Dismissal of military personnel
More than 17,000 military staff including 150 high-ranking personnel have been dismissed since the July 15 defeated coup in 2016, Akar said, referring to their links with the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO).
Akar also said 2,709 military personnel were suspended and 909 retired personnel’s ranks were stripped off due to their ties to the FETO terror group.
FETO and its U.S.-based leader Fetullah Gulen orchestrated the defeated coup attempt of July 15, 2016, which left 251 people martyred and nearly 2,200 injured.
Ankara also accuses FETO of being behind a long-running campaign to overthrow the state through the infiltration of Turkish institutions, particularly the military, police, and judiciary.
* Writing by Jeyhun Aliyev and Sibel Morrow