Tuesday 11 December 2018

Turkey in attack on US-backed Kurd rebels inside Syria

Turkish soldiers are seen near the town of Hassa on the Turkish-Syrian border in Hatay province, Turkey. Photo: Caglar Ozturk/Dogan News Agency via REUTERS
Turkish soldiers are seen near the town of Hassa on the Turkish-Syrian border in Hatay province, Turkey. Photo: Caglar Ozturk/Dogan News Agency via REUTERS

Sarqa Elizabeth Williams in Amman

Turkish ground forces entered the Afrin province in Syria yesterday morning in a bid to oust US-backed Kurdish militias from the border between the two countries.

The escalation came on the second day of Turkey's 'Operation Olive Branch', which began on Saturday with a barrage of air strikes on the Kurdish YPG militia in the province.

Turkey said it wanted to create a 30km safe zone around Afrin, deep inside Syria.

Hours after ground forces entered the country, a missile fired from Syria hit the Turkish border town of Reyhanli, killing a Syrian national and wounding 32 people.

Turkey made its move just a week after the US announced it was working to create a new Syrian border security force by backing Syrian democratic forces, which include militia from the Kurdish YPG.

The Turkish government regards the YPG as a terrorist organisation, closely tied to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, which has carried out a bloody three-year insurgency in Turkey's south-east.

Despite a call for restraint by France, which wants an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, Turkish officials have taken a zero- tolerance line in northern Syria.

Mevlut Cavusoglu, the foreign minister, declared yesterday that anyone who opposed Turkey's operation was siding with terrorists and would be treated accordingly.

The invasion of Afrin puts Turkey at risk of a confrontation with its Nato ally the US, which closely backs the YPG as its partner against Isil and as a border guard force in the Euphrates area.

"Our jets took off and started bombing. And now the ground operation is under way. Now we see how the YPG... are fleeing in Afrin," President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. "We will chase them. God willing, we will complete this operation very quickly."

Ibrahim Kalin, Mr Erdogan's spokesman, said on Twitter: "In its second day, the Olive Branch Operation continues to ensure peace and security for our people, protect Syria's territorial integrity and eliminate all terrorist elements in the region."

He added: "Turkey expects its allies to support its fight against terrorism in all of its forms."

However, Bekir Bozdag, the deputy prime minister, said clashes with US troops were "out of the question".

"We urge Turkey to exercise restraint and ensure that its military operations remain limited in scope and duration and scrupulous to avoid civilian casualties," said US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.

Mr Erdogan declared yesterday that "there is no stepping back" from the mission to clear Afrin of YPG.

Before the invasion was announced, Turkey claimed four rockets struck the border town of Kilis, wounding one person and damaging buildings. Turkey retaliated with artillery fire towards YPG positions in northern Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Turkish shells killed eight civilians, including at least one child, in the village of Jalbara.

Yesterday's invasion had been hinted at for several weeks.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview with 'Kommersant' newspaper that Turkey had been infuriated by "unilateral" US actions in Syria.

Turkey has been particularly outraged by an announcement that the US planned to train 30,000 personnel in parts of north-east Syria under the control of the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces. (© Daily Telegraph, London)


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