By Merve Yildizalp and Baris Gundogan
A total of 3,400 terrorists have been "neutralized" since the start of Operation Olive Branch in Syria's northwestern Afrin region, Turkey’s president said on Tuesday.
Speaking at the 4th International Benevolence Awards ceremony, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey aims to clear "all murderous terrorist groups" from Afrin, Manbij, and northern Syria.
The president stressed that Turkey has never targeted civilians during its operation in Afrin.
"Afrin would have already fallen if we had targeted civilians," he said.
On Jan. 20, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch to clear YPG/PKK-Daesh terrorists from Afrin, northwestern Syria.
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 the oppression and cruelty of terrorists.
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.
The military also said only terror targets are being destroyed and that "utmost care" is being taken to avoid harming civilians.
Erdogan said the Turkish-led operation in Afrin also exposed "the barbarous, cruel and killer face of the terrorist groups," which he said are using civilians as human shields and murdering children.
Fighting FETO, Daesh terror
The president also criticized those who send trucks with arms and ammunition to Syria.
"While some people send thousands of trucks with arms to Syria, our Turkiye Diyanet Foundation has sent thousands of trucks with humanitarian aid there, and is still sending them."
Likewise, the Turkish Red Crescent (Kizilay) and Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Agency (AFAD) are also sending aid, Erdogan said.
Speaking at the same event, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim highlighted Turkey’s worldwide aid efforts, spanning from Ethiopia to Somalia, Myanmar's Rakhine state, Palestine, and Syria.
Saying that Turkey is per capita the most generous country in providing humanitarian aid, Yildirim supplied additional numbers.
“In 2015, Turkey provided needy and suffering people with $3.9 billion worth of aid across the world," he said.
“In 2016, this aid reached $6.5 billion, a 65 percent rise. According to initial data in 2017, Turkey overtook a number of developed countries with its nearly $8 billion worth of official development aid."
President Erdogan also slammed terrorist groups such as Daesh and the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), the group behind the 2016 defeated coup attempt.
He said those two terror groups act like Trojan Horses smuggling in evil in the midst of good Muslims.
"Both of them aim to ruin us, to poison our faith," he said.
At least 319 people have lost their lives in Daesh terror attacks in Turkey, where the terrorist group has targeted civilians in suicide bomb, rocket, and gun attacks.
The Fetullah Terrorist Organization (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 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.
International Benevolence Awards
In his speech, Erdogan also hailed the recipients of the 4th International Benevolence Awards, saying their stories give people hope despite the violence and brutality across the globe.
"I believe these seedlings of benevolence you planted across the world will keep yielding fruit for many years to come," the president added.
The recipients of the International Benevolence Awards this year are as follows:
- Hasan Kizil from Mardin, Turkey for building prosthetic legs, hands, and arms for handicapped animals for free.
- Sevde Sevan Usak from Istanbul for her contribution to the education of women and children in Tanzania.
- Kanber Bozan from Istanbul from turning a section of his grocery store into a library for children.
- Yahya Hashemi and Ala Abdelrazaq Jabur from Canada for giving free food to the needy in their restaurant.
- Mahmut Karaman, a university lecturer from Sakarya, Turkey, for driving all night to serve food to the homeless and needy.
- Muhammad Bzeek from the U.S. for adopting terminally ill orphans.
- Levent Uckan, an imam from Istanbul, for helping homeless children across the city.