Turkish gov’t de facto annexes captured Syrian territories by appointing governors, police chiefs

Turkish government has de facto annexed number of Syrian territories near the border of Turkey by appointing local governors, police chiefs and garrison commanders.

Turkey’s Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu stated on Sunday as he gave a speech at the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) local party congress in Merkezefendi District of Denizli province that  “I am saying as the Interior Minister, we have district governors, police chiefs and, gendarme commanders in Cerablus, Azez, al-Bab and Mare today.”

“We are carrying out the most legitimate operation of the world with the Operation Olive Branch,” said Soylu and claimed that “We have no interest for the soils of other people, it has never in the history, too.”

Soylu stated that “We are a great nation with the peace we have established in Cerablus, Mare, Azez, El Bab on a territory of 2,000 square kilometer on the border zone. We do not look like them. I am saying as the Interior Minister. Today, we have district governors, we have police chiefs, we have a gendarme commanders… With the peace that we have set up there, we assured about 100 thousand of people to meet their own territories and the memories of their mothers, fathers and grandparents again. We are a great nation.”

Meanwhile, addressing another local AKP congress ahead of the 2019 elections, Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sunday said he would go to the Afrin region of Syria if necessary and called on people to follow him. “If needed, I, the top commander, would be the first one to go to Afrin. You would then follow me,” said Erdoğan during the AKP congress in Amasya province.

Erdoğan claimed Turkish troops are in Syria to ready conditions for the return of 3,5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. Stating that the Turkish military and Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters have captured the strategic Bursaya Mountain in Afrin, Erdoğan said: “They did it some despite some impertinent people. They did it despite the European Parliament. Some in the EP call Turkish troops ‘occupiers.’ You [Europeans] should look at your past, what you did in Africa.”

TURKISH MILITARY AND FSA TAKE CONTROL OF STRATEGIC PEAK

The Turkish General Staff announced on Sunday that Turkish army and Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces had captured the strategic Mt. Bursaya in northern Syria as part of the ongoing Operation Olive Branch. “The Turkish Armed Forces captured Mt. Bursaya, as part of Operation Olive Branch. Activities continue to clear terrorists from the area,” said the General Staff in a statement.

It said the strategic peak was captured by the Turkish military and FSA forces at around 2.30 p.m. local time on Sunday. The statement also stated that the operation, backed by air raids, attack helicopters, armed unmanned aerial vehicles, and land-based fire, was continuing successfully as planned.

The capture came after Turkish forces and FSA fighters under the Turkish-led Operation Olive Branch advanced on the peak from the northwestern Syrian city of Azaz. Airstrikes followed as PYD/PKK towers and positions on the mountain took heavy artillery fire from Turkish forces.

The outlawed PYD/PKK has reportedly used Mt. Bursaya to target civilians in the center of Turkey’s Kilis province and Syria’s Azaz district through mortar shells, artillery, and missiles. On Wednesday two civilians were killed by a PYD/PKK attack on a mosque in Kilis, and on Saturday at least three civilians, including a child, were injured by PYD/PKK attacks on Kilis and Hatay.

The Turkish military has also said on Sunday that a total of “484 PYD/PKK and ISIL terrorists” have been “neutralized” since the beginning of Operation Olive Branch in Syria’s northwestern Afrin region. The military generally uses the term “neutralize” to signify that the targets were killed.

According to a statement issued by the Turkish General Staff, the army “neutralized” 37 PYD/PKK and allegedly ISIL militants so far on Sunday. The statement said “seven Turkish jets safely returned to their bases after destroying some targets, used as weapon pits, shelters, and ammunition depots by the PYD/PKK and ISIL terrorist groups.” Operation Olive Branch is “successfully continuing as planned,” it added.

It was also reported that FSA forces prevented the PYD/PKK’s attempt to infiltrate Syria’s northern Aleppo province, the FSA commander said on Saturday. Speaking to AA, the commander of the FSA Abu Sitayf Minnag said that the PKK/PYD tried to infiltrate the southern part of Aleppo’s Mare District, which was captured during Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield. Minnag said that the PYD/PKK was repulsed by the FSA. “Four terrorists were killed and 17 terrorists were wounded in the clashes,” he said.

The Syrian government and a war monitor said on Sunday that Turkish shelling of the Kurdish-held Afrin region of Syria had seriously damaged an ancient temple. Ain Dara is an iron age temple with remains of large carved basalt blocks and wall reliefs. Pictures circulating online showed an apparent shell crater in the site.

A statement from the Syrian government’s antiquities department carried by Syrian state media called for international pressure on Turkey “to prevent the targeting of archaeological and cultural sites.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said Ain Dara was exposed to Turkish shelling, causing significant damage but no casualties.

 “US PROMISES DIDN’T MATCH THEIR ACTIONS IN THE FIELD”

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister and government spokesman Bekir Bozdağ said on Sunday that Washington’s actions in Syria are not in line with their promises to Ankara. Speaking to pro-government broadcaster Kanal 7, Bozdağ said that “The US administration’s promises to Turkey didn’t match their actions in the field.” “Every act of the US in Syria contradicts their promises,” he added, referring to the US promise to halt arming PYD/PKK terrorists in Syria. “From now on, Turkey will not only look at their words but at their actions too,” he said.

Bozdağ also reiterated the aims of Turkey’s current operation in Afrin, Syria by saying that “The goal of Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch in northwestern Syria is to eliminate the terrorist groups there and make the area safe and secure. The operation is being carried out with respect for the state of Syria its territorial integrity, sovereignty, and political unity, and will continue in this vein.”

Following the Afrin operation, the northern Syrian city of Manbij as well as areas captured by the PYD/PKK on the east of the Euphrates river will be cleared, he added. He underlined that Ankara will not tolerate the presence of a terror group that threatens the security of Turkey’s borders and its citizens there and attacks security forces. “Turkey won’t allow anything leading to the establishment of a PKK terrorist state or PKK terrorist army in the region,” he added. He reiterated Ankara’s call for the US to end its support for PYD/PKK terrorists in Syria.

Pro-government Hürriyet daily news has reported on Sunday that Turkey and the US have agreed to work on de-escalating tension between the two long-standing allies over the latter’s support to the YPG in Syria as the Turkish military carries out a massive operation to defeat the group along its borders.

“We may have a difference of opinion on some issues, but we are allied countries,” H.R. McMaster, the national security advisor to US President Donald Trump, told Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s chief foreign policy advisor and spokesman İbrahim Kalın during a phone conversation on Jan. 27, according to sources familiar with the conversation.

The conversation between the two advisors came after Trump and Erdoğan spoke over the phone on Jan. 24 in which the two leaders discussed Turkey’s ongoing “Operation Olive Branch” against the YPG in the Afrin district of Syria. Turkey considers the YPG as the offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and, hence, a terrorist group. Both the content of the conversation and the readout issued by the White House over the Trump-Erdoğan phone call have further fueled already strained ties between Turkey and the US.

Kalın and McMaster mainly focused on Turkey’s ongoing military operation and disagreements over the US support to the YPG. According to the information Hürriyet gathered from senior Turkish officials, Kalın and McMaster agreed to work on improving ties between the two allies on the grounds of mutual interests and respect. They also agreed to work on overcoming the existing confidence crisis between the two allies, with Ankara believing that it will not be an easy process.

According to sources in Ankara, re-building trust between the two allies heavily depend on the steps the US will take with regard to its partnership with the YPG. McMaster reiterated that no weapons will be delivered to the YPG, during the phone talk with Kalın, a commitment that was already given to Turkey in recent months.

“We will closely follow to what extent they will fulfill their commitments,” the sources said, underlining once again that they want concrete actions taken by the US in the field.

Basing on information gathered from the sources, Hürriyet listed five measures the US needs to take as no weapons should be given to the YPG; Weapons already delivered to the YPG should be taken back immediately; Military training given to the YPG should be ceased; No logistical support should be given; All ties with the YPG should be cut.

Moreover, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoğlu on Saturday talked to his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov over the phone. The phone call came ahead of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress, which is set to be held on Jan. 29-30 in the Russian coastal city of Sochi, where the representatives of the guarantor countries Russia, Iran and Turkey will also be present.

Turkish military launched Operation Olive Branch on Jan. 20 to remove PYD/PKK and allegedly ISIL 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 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. Afrin has been under the control of the PYD/PKK since July 2012 when the Assad regime in Syria left the city.

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