Turkish gov’t slams US remarks on Turkish military operation in Afrin

US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert

The Turkish government on Wednesday characterized US remarks on the UN’s Syria cease-fire resolution as “baseless,” claiming that the US has failed to recognise that “its counter-terrorist operation in Afrin falls outside the UN resolution.”

“Remarks by the US on the UN cease-fire and Turkish operation, which falls outside the cease-fire, are confused or distorted,” claimed the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

When asked by reporters on Tuesday if Turkey is “violating the UN cease-fire” in Syria, US State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said that she would “encourage Turkey to go back and read the UN resolution.”

“I think the resolution was clear here in naming exactly which groups are considered to be exempt from the ceasefire,” Nauert added.

The European Union’s head of foreign policy has also called on Russia, Iran and Turkey to uphold the United Nations resolution for a 30-day cease-fire in Syria, the US News and World Report website said. Federica Mogherini called on the three powers to “implement a genuine humanitarian pause for at least 30 consecutive days throughout Syria,” the news site said.

During that time they should “take all necessary steps to ensure that the fighting stops, that the Syrian people are protected, and finally that urgent humanitarian access and necessary medical evacuations are taking place,” she was quoted as saying in a letter to all EU foreign ministers and the UN secretary-general.

The Foreign Ministry of Germany on Wednesday called on the Turkish government to respect the 30-day cease-fire in Syria called by the United Nations, the Turkish trade union news site Sendika.org reported.

The UN cease-fire demanded that “all sides” stop fighting in Syria, but Turkish officials responded that this did not apply to their military operation against Kurdish militias in the northwestern Syrian region of Afrin, which they said would continue.

The German Foreign Ministry’s statement on Wednesday conveyed the country’s opinion that the cease-fire applied to all sides, including Turkey. The statement echoed earlier sentiments along the same lines of French President Emmanuel Macron and US State Department Spokesperson Nauert.

According to a report by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency on Wednesday, the Turkish government blasted this response, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy saying it shows Nauert “couldn’t understand the focal point of the resolution or wants to distort it.”

“Turkey is not one of the parties to the conflict in Syria,” said Aksoy. “In Operation Olive Branch in Afrin, Turkey is exercising its right to self-defense based on Article 51 of the UN Charter.”

“All concerned parties should realize the goals and objectives of the resolution without distorting it,” he added, urging against double standards and distortions. “Turkey will continue to do its part to relieve the suffering of the Syrian people as it has until now,” he claimed.

The UN Security Council on Saturday passed a resolution calling for a 30-day cease-fire in Syria “without delay.” The Turkish government has stressed that the cease-fire is meant to give relief to civilian areas hit hard by Assad regime airstrikes and has nothing to do with the Turkish military campaign in Afrin.

On Tuesday Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım also claimed that the cease-fire resolution does not apply to Turkey’s operation, which is meant to “clear out bloody terrorist groups to rescue the civilians living there.”

At least 192 civilians were killed during the military operations conducted by the Turkish military and its ally the Free Syrian Army’s (FSA) jihadist militias since the start of the military campaign in Afrin. Angela Resho, co-chair of the Health Council of Afrin, said at a press briefing on Tuesday that 192 civilians have been killed and 574  wounded in Afrin since the start of Turkey’s military operation on January 20. According to the information provided by Resho, 28 of the victims were children and 23 were women.

“Bodies of several people are under the rubble. We are working hard to find the dead bodies,” she said. She said that the numbers do not include five civilians killed by Turkish bombing in Jindires on Monday.

However, an official from the Kurdish Red Crescent claimed on Tuesday that 348 civilians have been killed in Turkey’s ongoing military operation against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Afrin. He said among those killed were 57 children and 48 women.

The Turkish General Staff said in a statement on Wednesday that a total of 2,184 YPG/PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) and allegedly Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants have been “neutralized” since the launch of Operation Olive Branch in Syria’s northwestern Afrin region.

Turkish authorities often use the word “neutralized” in their statements to imply the militants in question either surrendered or were killed or captured.

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