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Erdogan Says Syria Operation Not Designed To Capture Territory

A Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army fighter stands guard on top of a building in Sawran village, Syria.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told France's Emmanuel Macron that Turkey’s military operation inside Syria is aimed at purging "terror elements" and not designed to permanently take Syrian territory.

The state-run Anadolu news agency reported on February 3 that Erdogan told Macron in a telephone call that Turkey had "no eye on the territory of another country."

Turkey on January 20 launched its air-and-land operation, dubbed "Olive Branch," against members of the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia in Syria’s Kurdish-run Afrin region.

Ankara said its forces are supported by the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which seeks to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The Turks accuse the YPG of having links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency in southeast Turkish for more than 30 years. The PKK is regarded as a terror group by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union.

But Turkey's Western allies have worked closely with YPG fighters in the battle against Islamic State (IS) extremists and do not consider it to be a terror group.

Macron said in a newspaper interview last week that France would have a "real problem" with the Turkish campaign if it turned out to be an "invasion operation."

After the French leader’s remarks, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that France had no right "to give us lessons" on a cross-border offensive, citing France's colonial history.

The comments came amid reports that seven Turkish soldiers were killed on February 3 in clashes against Kurdish fighters in Syria.

The Kurdish news portal Rudaw cited the Turkish military as saying five of the soldiers were killed in an attack on a Turkish tank.The two others were killed earlier in the day in separate clashes.

If confirmed, the deaths would bring to 14 the number of Turkish soldiers killed during the offensive in Afrin.

Meanwhile, a Turkish government official denied a report by Human Rights Watch on February 3 that Turkish guards at the border are indiscriminately shooting at and summarily forcing back asylum seekers attempting to cross into Turkey.

Erdogan's spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, told reporters that Turkish soldiers were there to protect these people and that Ankara has had an "open-door policy" since the start of Syria's civil war in 2011.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters