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Turkey in agreement with Russia over operations in Syria’s Afrin: Erdogan

This handout picture taken and released on January 20, 2018 by the Turkish Presidential Press Office shows Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan arriving during the opening ceremony of the 6th provincial congress meeting of Justice and Development (AK) Party in Kutahya. (Photo by AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey has reached an agreement with Russia over Ankara’s latest military operation against US-backed Kurdish militants in northern Syria, vowing that his country would not retreat a step from the ongoing operation.

The Turkish leader made the remarks during a televised speech he delivered in the capital Ankara, adding that the Turkish army would take control of the northwestern Syrian city of Afrin as it had done in other Syrian cities of Jarablus, Ra'i and Bab, and that Syrians would be able to return home.

“We are determined. Afrin will be sorted out. We will take no step back. We spoke about this with our Russian friends. We have an agreement,” Erdogan added.

Erdogan’s comments came two days after his country launched the so-called Operation Olive Branch in a bid to eliminate the US-backed YPG, which Ankara views as a terror organization and the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The latter has been fighting for an autonomous region inside Turkey since 1984.

The operation was launched days after Washington said it would work with the Kurdish militants to set up a 30,000-strong border force near Turkish soil, a move that infuriated Ankara.

The YPG, which is operating as part of the larger US-backed Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militant coalition, is purportedly fighting against terrorists without obtaining any official authorization from Damascus, which calls the forces “traitors” to the Syrian nation.

Turkish soldiers wait near the Syrian border at Hassa, in Hatay province on January 21, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

No confirmation from Moscow yet

Reports, however, say that no official confirmation from the Kremlin regarding the existence of such an agreement has been given yet.  

Elsewhere in his remarks, the Turkish leader asserted that Ankara had spoken with other powers, including the US, about the military intervention, but acknowledged that “we couldn't convince the US on some things.” Erdogan, however, did not give further details.

“We as Turkey have no intention to occupy anywhere. We have one single goal - to win hearts,” he added.

No exact timetable set for operation: Erdogan

Erdogan also said that he was impatient with demands, including from some officials in the White House, to outline a timetable for the length of the offensive, noting that it would be over “when the target is achieved.”

“How long have you been in Afghanistan? Is that over in Iraq?” he said, referring to the current US military presence in those countries, which commenced with 2001 and 2003 invasions, respectively.

“There is no math in such a war. How dare you ask us? We will stay as long as we need, we have no interest in staying there and we know when we will leave,” the Turkish president further said.

A Turkish-backed Syrian militant of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) uses a drone at a monitoring point near the Syrian village of Qilah, in the southwestern edge of the Afrin region close to the border with Turkey, on January 22, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

3 killed in purported Kurdish missile attacks

Meanwhile, Turkey’s Dogan news agency reported that earlier in the day a rocket purportedly fired from the Afrin region had hit a Turkish camp where Free Syrian Army (FSA) militants were located near the border, killing two people and injuring 12 others.

In a separate report, Dogan, citing unnamed security sources, said that later in the day, one person was also killed and two others sustained injuries in a purported cross-border attack by YPG militants in the southern Turkish province of Hatay. It added that the Kurdish militants allegedly targeted Hatay with a mortar shell.

On Sunday, Major Yasser Abdul Rahim, a commander of the Turkish-backed anti-Damascus FSA militants, had announced that some 25,000 FSA members were joining the Turkish military operation in Syria with the goal of recapturing Arab towns and villages seized by the YPG forces.

He noted at the time that the FSA forces would not seek to enter the YPG-held Afrin but encircle the northern city and expel the Kurdish militants.

SDF mulling over sending back-up forces

In another development on Monday, the SDF said that it was studying the possibility of deploying reinforcements to the Afrin region to help fend off the Turkish offensive.

“We are in the framework of looking at the possibility of sending more military forces to Afrin,” SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel said in a televised presser, calling for international efforts to end the Turkish attack.

Turkish police use teargas against members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) during a protest against Turkey's "Olive Branch" operation in Syria, on January 21, 2018 in Ankara. (Photo by AFP)

More arrests in Turkey over operation

Turkey’s Interior Ministry said on Monday that Turkish security forces had arrested 24 people for allegedly “spreading terrorist propaganda” on social media related to Ankara’s military operation, without giving more details on the arrests.

On Sunday, Turkish police used pepper gas to break up pro-Kurdish demonstrations in Ankara and Istanbul, arresting at least 12 people. Earlier on Sunday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had accused those opposing the so-called operation in Syria of siding with “terrorists”, threatening them of being treated accordingly.

Daesh inmates to help Kurdish militants: Report

Meanwhile, Turkey's official Anadolu news, citing some unnamed local sources, reported that Kurdistan Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is considered as the YPG’s political wing, and the PKK had released all Daesh prisoners under the condition that they would fight against Turkish army and FSA militants in Syria's Afrin region.

Operation Olive Branch in the Afrin region is Turkey's second major military intervention in Syria during an unprecedented foreign-backed militancy that broke out in 2011.

In August 2016, Turkey began a unilateral military intervention in northern Syria, code-named Operation Euphrates Shield, sending tanks and warplanes across the border. Ankara claimed that its military campaign was aimed at pushing Daesh from Turkey's border with Syria and stopping the advance of Kurdish forces, who were themselves fighting Daesh.  

Turkey ended its military campaign in northern Syria in March 2017, but at the time did not rule out the possibility of yet another act of military offensive inside the Arab country.

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