By Fatih Hafiz Mehmet
Turkey’s deputy prime minister said Thursday that during Turkey's current counter-terrorist Operation Olive Branch in Syria, there have been no civilian casualties or injuries.
Speaking at Anadolu Agency Editors' Desk, Bekir Bozdag said: "To date, no civilians have died or even been hurt in Turkish Armed Forces operations."
Bozdag also said Turkey's fight against the terrorist PYD/PKK in Afrin, northwestern Syria, near Turkey’s border, is providing tremendous support for Syria's territorial integrity and sovereignty.
Anyone who backs or patronizes the terror group PYD/PKK, including the U.S., will face a response by Turkey, Bozdag said.
The U.S. has called the PYD/PKK a “reliable ally” in its fight against Daesh, against strong objections by Turkey, which has documented that the group is an offshoot of the terrorist PKK.
In its 30-year terrorist campaign against Turkey, the PKK -- recognized as a terrorist group by the U.S., EU, and Turkey -- has taken some 40,000 lives.
Bozdag said it was very important for the U.S. to understand what it said to Turkey.
Turkey-US common mechanism
Sometime before mid-March, the first meeting of the U.S-Turkey "common mechanism" is planned to be held in Washington, he said.
Bozdag said the meeting will be coordinated by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Cavusoglu and Tillerson agreed on a mechanism to handle the Syria issue when the latter visited Turkey on Feb. 16.
Addressing reports of Syrian regime forces or regime-backed forces seeking to intervene in Afrin, Bozdag added that if the Bashar Al-Assad regime enters Afrin posing as the YPG/PYD/PKK they will be targeted, and if militias enter, they will be targeted too.
"Whoever gets into a fight against the Turkish Armed Forces together with these terrorists will become a target for us," he stressed.
Bozdag said there have been no direct meetings between Turkey and the Assad regime, but that Turkey conveyed through Russia its expectations of the Assad regime.
Asked about reports claiming that the EU had demanded that Operation Olive Branch be stopped in order to realize visa liberalization in the Schengen zone, he said there was "no question" of doing this.
On Jan. 20, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch to clear PYD/PKK and 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 terrorist oppression and cruelty.
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 the "utmost care" is being taken to avoid harming civilians.
Turning to the new election alliance bill, Bozdag said that one of the most important consequences of the measure would be to make it easier for the parties forming alliances to cross the 10 percent election threshold.
He said that the bill would also enable a person to run as a candidate from another party's list without needing to resign from their own party.
"It is very important from many angles," Bozdag added.
Looking ahead to an alliance in the 2019 poll, Turkey's ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party and opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) on Wednesday submitted a bill to the Parliament Speaker's Office to allow electoral alliances.