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Middle East

Turkey dubs France's warning over Syria operation 'baseless'

media Afrin on 31 January 2018 Ahmad Shafie BILAL / AFP

Turkey has accused France of "baseless" accusations that civilians are dying in its offensiv against Kurdish militias in northern Turkey.

"It is being seen with regret that the French foreign minister made unfortunate and groundless comments on Operation Olive Branch," Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a statement on Thursday.

Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch on 20 January to clear Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militias out of the north-west Syrian town of Afrin, claiming that they are part of the same movement as the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) that has been fighting the Turkish state for three decades.

Commenting on the offensive this week, French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he understood that Turkey wants to defend its borders but said that killing civilians would be "reprehensible".

At least 68 civilians have been killed in the offensive according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

But Turkey denies the claim.

"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."

Last week French President Emmanuel Macron warned against the operation becoming an "invasion operation", prompting Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan to tell him in a phone conversation that it was aimed at "terror elements".

"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."

France and the rest of the US-led coalition have worked with the YPG in its fight against the Islamic State armed group and have called on Turkey to exercise restraint in Afrin.

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