"Depending on developments, our grounds elements will carry out the necessary activities (on Sunday)," Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim says.

Tanks are being transported to Reyhanli district of Hatay, Turkey as part of the
Tanks are being transported to Reyhanli district of Hatay, Turkey as part of the "Operation Olive Branch" on January 20, 2018. (AA)

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said a Turkish ground operation into the Syria's Afrin region is likely to start on Sunday, depending on developments.

In a joint press conference with Turkey's Nationalist Movement Party's (MHP) Leader Devlet Bahceli at Cankaya Palace in Ankara, Yildirim said Turkish jets had destroyed "almost all" targets they had determined to belong to YPG militants, which Ankara considers to be a "terrorist" threat to Turkey.

He said Turkish artillery were continuing to shell the region.

Yildirim said, "As of tomorrow, depending on developments, our grounds elements will carry out the necessary activities. Apart from Turkish armed forces, there are components of Free Syrian Army participating in this operation."

The prime minister said the first phase of “Operation Olive Branch” was conducted by air forces and ‘nearly all’ targets were destroyed.

The Turkish military said as many as 72 planes involved in the Afrin operation, codenamed "Olive Branch", returned to their bases safely on Saturday.

“Since last three years, the level of persecution by the terrorist group in the region has increased so much that 350,000 of our Kurdish brothers came to our country to save their lives and settled here,” the premier said.

“Therefore, the black propaganda of the terrorist group claiming ‘an operation is being conducted to eliminate the Kurds in Afrin’ has absolutely nothing to do with the reality. The operation is launched to protect the Kurds and the Arabs and the innocent people from the persecution of this bloody, separatist terrorist organisation.”

Bahceli voiced his support for the Turkish military’s campaign, calling it a “well-planned” and “very important operation."

Following his meeting with Bahceli, Yildirim visited Turkish General Staff Headquarters and took information on the operation from Turkish Chief of General Staff General Hulusi Akar.

Turkish Chief of General Staff General Hulusi Akar gives information to Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim on 'Operation Olive Branch' to Afrin, at the operations center in the Turkish General Staff Headquarters in Ankara, Turkey on January 20, 2018.
Turkish Chief of General Staff General Hulusi Akar gives information to Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim on 'Operation Olive Branch' to Afrin, at the operations center in the Turkish General Staff Headquarters in Ankara, Turkey on January 20, 2018. (AA)

"Only terrorists are target"

Meanwhile, Turkish Chief of General Staff said late Saturday that only terrorists, their shelters, buildings, weapons and vehicles would be targeted in Syria’s Afrin region as part of the operation. 

"Every kind of attention and sensitivity will be shown so that civilians and innocent people will not be harmed," Akar said in a video footage released by the Turkish General Staff.

The Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke to TRT World and says the main aim of Turkey's operation near Afrin is to ensure country's border security.

Cavusoglu said the YPG militants in Afrin "harassed Turkish forces at least 700 time so far."

Rockets fired into Turkey

Early on Sunday, four rockets fired from Afrin hit houses and a workplace in Turkey’s southern border province of Kilis.

"Four rockets hit Kilis city centre, no one killed, but one civilian is slightly injured on his face because of broken glasses. Turkish security  forces retaliated the attack as per the rules of engagement," Kilis Governer Mehmet Tekinarslan said.

Buildings in the city's centre have been severely damaged according to reports.

As the operation continues, Turkish government inform all the actors related, Cavusoglu added.

Ambassadors of Britain, France and China in Ankara were called to Turkish Foreign Ministry on late Saturday and informed about military operation in Syria’s Afrin, a diplomatic official said.

Earlier, the US, Russia and Iranian mission heads in Ankara were also informed about the operation.

Cavusoglu said the United Nations and the Syrian regime were also informed about the developments.

Turkish security officials say Turkish fighter jets hit 108 out of 113 targets in the region shortly after the operation started.
Turkish security officials say Turkish fighter jets hit 108 out of 113 targets in the region shortly after the operation started. (TRTWorld)

Around 10,000 Free Syrian Army fighters are prepared to storm Afrin, according to Rami Abdurrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

An opposition commander speaking to the AP by phone from north Syria said there were thousands of fighters positioned in Azaz, at the frontier with the Afrin, awaiting orders.

Another commander said hundreds more were stationed in Atmeh, south of Afrin. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media.

Turkey started the operation on Saturday at 5 pm [1400GMT] in Afrin.

The operation aims to establish security and stability along Turkish borders and the region as well as to eliminate PKK-related terrorists and Daesh to protect Syrian and Turkish people from the terrorists’ oppression and cruelty.

The operation is carried out under the framework of Turkey’s rights based on international law, UN Security Council’s decisions and self-defense right under UN charter, said the military.

PYD and its military wing the YPG, which is the Syrian offshoot of the PKK, all look to Abdullah Ocalan as their guide. 

Ocalan and his PKK group are recognised as terrorists by the US, EU and Turkey. 

Since the mid-1980s, the PKK has waged a wide-ranging terror campaign against the Turkish state in which an estimated 40,000 people have been killed.

More than 1,200 security personnel have been martyred since July 2015 when the group resumed its armed campaign against the Turkish state following a fragile almost two-and-a-half year cease-fire. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies