Turkey’s top General assures Iran of respect for Syria’s territorial integrity

Tasnim – Chief of the General Staff of Turkey General Hulusi Akar in a phone conversation with Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri on Sunday gave assurances that Ankara respects the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Syria.

Akar, who initiated the phone call, told his Iranian counterpart that Turkey respected Syria’s territorial integrity and remains committed to agreements reached in trilateral talks with Iran and Russia on the situation in the Arab country.

He said the main reason for Turkey’s aerial bombardment, shelling and ground incursion into Afrin, Syria, over the weekend, was to counter the assembly of “terrorist groups” in the area and the threat they pose to Turkey’s border towns and villages.

The attacks were carried out by the Turkish army within the framework of the right to self-defense, he added.

Major General Baqeri, for his part, stressed the need for Syria’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity to remain intact and said Turkey ought to give assurances that it has no intention of undermining them.

He added that such measures should not set the ground for exploitation by the enemies of Syria and the Muslim world, especially the US and its allies, to to advance their expansionist policies in Syria.

Nor should they undermine the trilateral negotiations between Tehran, Moscow and Ankara and the Astana peace talks on Syria that have produced some achievements so far, Iran’s top general went on to say.

Earlier on Sunday, – Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi also voiced the country’s concern about Turkey’s operation in Syria and said Tehran stresses the need to protect the territorial integrity of the Arab country.

Tehran expects Ankara, as one of the guarantors of ceasefire in Syria, to remain committed to political processes to resolve the Syrian crisis, particularly the Astana peace negotiations, and play a constructive role in settling the crisis, Qassemi added.

Turkey on Sunday said it will push ahead with its operation against US-backed Kurdish militants based in Afrin, adding that its forces have crossed into the northwestern Syrian city and hit over 150 Kurdish militant targets so far.

Turkish media quoted Prime Minister Binali Yildirim as saying that the military forces had entered Afrin from the Turkish village of Gulbaba at 08:05 GMT on Sunday, the second day of the campaign.

He was also quoted as saying that the Turkish army aims to create a 30-kilometrer safe zone in Afrin.

Turkey launched the so-called Operation Olive Branch on Saturday in a bid to eliminate the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara views as a terror organization and the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party (PKK).

Turkey-US ties have hit a new low over Washington’s support for the anti-Damascus Kurdish militants operating at the Turkish doorstep.

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.

The YPG dismissed Yildirim’s claim, saying Turkish troops had tried to enter Afrin, but were forced back.

Birusk Hasaka, the YPG spokesman in Afrin, said the Turkish forces were repulsed following fierce clashes.

Nouri Mahmoudi, another YPG official, also said “all the Turkish military’s ground attacks against Afrin have been repelled so far and they have been forced to retreat.”

Meanwhile, the Turkish army said in a statement that it had targeted 153 hideouts, shelters and arsenals used by the Kurdish militants, adding that artillery fire continued from the ground.

Footage released on Sunday showed Turkish military convoys on the Syrian border.

The YPG said Turkey’s strikes had killed six civilians and three of its members, and injured 13 civilians.

Damascus has strongly condemned the most recent in a series of Turkish transgressions against Syrian sovereignty.