–Turkey to hand over Syria’s Afrin to ‘real owners’ after eliminating terrorists, says president
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday reiterated Turkey’s determination to fight against terror groups in Syria and said his country would return the region to its “real owners”.
Speaking at the Justice and Development (AK) Party’s provincial congress in the southern province of Gaziantep, Erdogan said: “Around 140,000 Syrian brothers have returned so far and started living on their own soil, which we secured during the Operation Euphrates Shield [previous cross-border operation which ended last March].”
“After the Afrin operation, our brothers will return to their own soil and end their refugee life,” he said referring to the ongoing Operation Olive Branch in Syria’s northwestern Afrin region.
Erdogan added that they would not give up the fight until they eradicated the terrorist presence in Syria.
Referring to the U.S. without naming it, Erdogan also said: “If you are allied with us, then do whatever alliance needs. If you are not, then tell us.”
Relations between the two countries have been strained over U.S. support for the terrorist group PYD/YPG/PKK in northern Syria, with the U.S. calling the group a “reliable ally” in the fight against Daesh amid strong Turkish objections.
Calling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a “murderer”, Erdogan said: “Didn’t he kill his around 1 million people? How does the world protect this man? How do they stand by him?
“We’ve never sided with tyrants,” he added.
During his speech, he also updated the toll in Afrin saying, a total of 2,021 terrorists had been “neutralized” since the start of Operation Olive Branch which was launched on Jan. 20 to clear PYD/PKK and Daesh terrorists from Afrin.
Turkish authorities often use the word “neutralized” in their statements to imply the terrorists in question either surrendered or were killed or captured.
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.
-Fight against FETO
Erdogan said there would be no stepping back in the fight against Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), the group behind the 2016 defeated coup attempt, and those found guilty would continue to pay a “heavy” price for what they did including aggravated life imprisonment.
The FETO and its U.S.-based leader Fetullah Gulen orchestrated the defeated coup of July 15, 2016, which left 250 people martyred and nearly 2,200 injured.
Ankara 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.