Turkey says France’s criticism of Syria operation ‘baseless’
Turkey on Thursday dismissed France's claims over civilian losses in Ankara's ongoing Syria operation, labelling them "unfortunate" and "baseless" accusations.
“It is being seen with regret that the French foreign minister made unfortunate and groundless comments on the Operation Olive Branch,” Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a statement.
Turkey on January 20 began a major operation aimed at ousting fighters from the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) from their enclave of the northwestern town of Afrin.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned on Wednesday against civilian deaths in the offensive.
“What we can understand is that Turkey wants to ensure the security of its borders which is a legitimate right but to ensure the security of its borders does not mean killing civilians which is reprehensible,” he told French channel BFM TV and Radio RMC.
At least 68 civilians have been killed in the offensive according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Turkey has strongly rejected any civilian casualties, saying that its military is showing utmost care not to harm any civilians in the Afrin region.
“There have been no civilian losses so far in the operation,” Aksoy said.
“Contrary to what France claims, Turkey’s ongoing operation is aimed at preventing another war in Syria. We expect our allies to be able to see this reality,” he added.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday told French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in a phone conversation that the Afrin operation was aimed at “terror elements” and that Ankara had no eye on Syrian territory.
Macron had incensed Turkish officials by saying in a newspaper interview last week that France would have a “real problem” with the campaign if it turned out to be an “invasion operation”.
“Turkey does not have eye on any other country’s soil,” Aksoy said.
“Turkey has never been colonialist in its history. It has entered Syria not for invasion but to combat with terrorism,” he added, urging Turkey’s allies to take Ankara’s side in the fight against terror groups in Afrin.
Turkey’s Western allies do not classify the YPG as a terror group and have worked closely with its fighters in the battle against Islamic State jihadists.