ADDS MORE REMARKS FROM TURKISH VICE PRESIDENT; CHANGES DECK
By Havva Kara Aydin and Beyza Binnur Donmez
ANKARA (AA) - Turkey is not fighting against Kurds in northern Syria but against the YPG/PKK terrorist organization, the Turkish vice president said on Thursday referring to the ongoing Operation Peace Spring.
"The world has to differentiate between the terrorist organization and the Kurds," Fuat Oktay told TRT World in an interview, drawing attention to the wrong perception of international media which links all Kurds with the terrorist organization.
Oktay stressed that Turkey will not allow the establishment of any terrorist corridor or state throughout its borders and that the operation will continue until northern Syria is cleared from terrorists.
Another object of the operation is creating a safe area for Syrian refugees living in Turkey to return to their own homeland on a voluntary base.
"We have a political principle that we already declared, we are for the unity of Syrian territorial integrity," Oktay said.
Oktay emphasized that Turkey has "a very strong" record of separating civilians from the terrorist, reminding of the country's previous operations in Syria, Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch, and said: "So, we were maybe one of the best in the entire world separating those two forms from each other."
Without sufficient data confirming the existence of terrorists in a specific point, Turkey will not and does not strike those points, he added.
"It's kind of a surgical operation that we are going through," the vice president said.
Noting that there are no civilian causalities on the Syrian side, Oktay said that Turkey already lost six civilian citizens, including a 9-month-old baby, Muhammed Omar.
"So, the entire world has to see the difference, there is a responsible state at this side, fighting against terrorism, not only PKK, but also Daesh as well in the region," he said.
He underlined that the PKK is a terrorist group responsible of killing 40,000 Turks and the YPG is its Syrian militia, which "smuggles drug, uses children and forces them to join their terrorist organization".
Responding to a question on the concern of the international community about destabilizing Syria through Operation Peace Spring, Oktay said: "Turkey is stabilizing Syria. Syria is already a destabilized country".
Turkey on Wednesday launched Operation Peace Spring east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria, to secure its borders and Syria’s territorial integrity, by eliminating terrorist elements and to ensure the safe return of Syrian refugees.
Turkey has said the terrorist group PKK and its extension the YPG/PYD constitute the biggest threat to Syria’s future, jeopardizing the country’s territorial integrity and unitary structure.
Ankara has also stressed that supporting terrorists, under the pretext of fighting Daesh is unacceptable.
Turkey has a 911-kilometer (566-miles) border with Syria and it has long decried the threat from terrorists east of the Euphrates River and the formation of a "terrorist corridor" there.
Turkey plans to resettle two million Syrians in a 30-km-wide (19-miles) proposed safe zone in Syria, stretching from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border, including Manbij. However, the presence of terror groups such as the PKK, PYD, and YPG risk its formation.
Ankara has freed an area of 4,000 square km (1,544 square miles) in Syria from terrorist groups in two separate cross-border operations.
Since 2016, Turkey has conducted two major military operations in northwestern Syria -- Operation Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch -- to eradicate threats from the Daesh and the YPG, which is the Syrian branch of the terrorist group PKK.
The two operations were in line with the country’s right to self-defense borne out of international law, UN Security Council resolutions, especially no. 1624 (2005), 2170 (2014) and 2178 (2014), and under the right to self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter, while being respectful of Syria’s territorial integrity. During Operation Euphrates Shield, Turkish forces neutralized 3,060 Daesh terrorists.
Turkey has suffered greatly from Daesh attacks inside the country. More than 300 people have been killed in attacks claimed by Daesh in Turkey, where the terrorist group has targeted civilians in suicide bombings and armed attacks in recent years.
In its more than 30-year terror of 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 some 40,000 people, including women, children, and infants.