UPDATES WITH MORE QUOTES BY ERDOGAN; EDITS THROUGHOUT
By Cansu Dikme and Sibel Ugurlu
ANKARA (AA) - In its operation in northwestern Syria, Turkey wants to forge justice, not take land, Turkey’s president said on Wednesday.
Addressing local officials at the presidential complex, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that in the operation in Afrin, Syria, along Turkey's borders, the Turkish Armed forces backed by Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters are taking the region under control.
“Our concern is the establishment of justice, not land,” Erdogan said.
Turkey will first destroy the terrorists and, after Operation Olive Branch ends, enable 3.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey to return to their homes safely, he added.
During his speech, Erdogan noted that 268 terrorists had been neutralized, while the Turkish army and FSA forces had suffered the loss of sept, eight martyrs over the last four days.
The military generally uses the term "neutralize" to signify that targets were killed.
"Turkey is trying to defeat a [terrorist] organization that posts photos of 13 or 15-year-old children and innocent old women with guns put in their hands and forcing those who need a piece of bread to pay money."
- Misportrayed operation
Erdogan added that the PYD/PKK terror group had released all Daesh prisoners under the condition that they would fight against the Turkish army and the FSA in Syria's Afrin region.
"These terrorist organizations [PYD, PKK, Daesh, YPG, the far-left DHKP-C] are all the same [...] These are terrorist groups serving the same purpose in the same scenario with different roles."
The president also slammed those who, he said, misportrayed the operation as "[one] against our Kurdish brothers while it is clear that this operation targets several terrorist organizations".
Erdogan recalled the same accusations were leveled against Turkey during the Operation Euphrates Shield.
"Turkey neutralized more than 3,000 Daesh and hundreds of PYD/YPG terrorists in Operation Euphrates Shield, he said, adding Turkey had enabled nearly thousands of hundreds of Syrians to return their homes.
"I wonder if those who attack Syria don't notice these?"
The Turkish president said the operation would last until the death of the last terrorist.
Turkey launched the operation last Saturday to remove PYD/PKK and Daesh terrorists from Afrin.
The Turkish General Staff said the operation was aimed at establishing security and stability along Turkey’s borders and the region as well as protecting Syrians from terrorist oppression and cruelty.
It said the operation was being carried out under the framework of Turkey’s rights based on international law.
The military has also said that only terrorist targets are being destroyed, and "utmost diligence" was being shown to avoid collateral damage to the civilian population.
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.