Turkey and allies capture hill in offensive against Kurdish fighters in Syria
Turkey claims some of its soldiers have been taken hostage while Kurds say they are still fighting for the hill.
Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters have captured a strategic hill in north western Syria as their offensive to root out Kurdish fighters entered a second week.
Reporters in the Turkish border town of Kilis heard constant shelling and clashes as Turkish aircraft flew overhead and plumes of smoke rose in the distance.
The Turkey-backed forces have been trying to capture the hill, which separates the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin from the Turkey-controlled town of Azaz, since the start of their offensive on January 20, but have been met with stiff resistance.
The Kurdish militia known as the People’s Defence Units, or YPG, said Turkey sent reinforcements to the area following intense airstrikes on Sunday.
It disputed the claim that the Turkish troops and allied fighters were in full control of the hill, saying its forces had redeployed and will fight to reclaim the strategic area.
The Turkish military said in a statement its soldiers and allied Syrian opposition fighters captured Bursayah hill assisted by air strikes, attack helicopters, armed drones and howitzers.
Rami Abdurrahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, confirmed the Turkish troops seized control of the strategic hill, which overlooks northeastern Afrin, after intense battles.
Mr Abdurrahman said the airstrikes also targeted the area around Afrin’s main dam for the second time since the offensive began.
There were no immediate reports of damage to the April 17 Dam, which provides water and electricity to the Kurdish enclave, home to hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom have fled from other parts of Syria.
The Observatory said at least 51 civilians, including 17 children, were killed in the offensive on Sunday, including eight people from the same family.
It said 66 YPG fighters and 69 Turkey-backed Syrian fighters were also killed. Turkey says five of its soldiers and 16 allied fighters were killed in the fighting.
The YPG said one of its female fighters blew herself up, destroying a Turkish tank in southwestern Afrin.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech on Sunday that there were reports that the YPG was holding Turkish soldiers captive, adding that Turkey was taking steps to try to bring them back.
Mr Erdogan’s statement did not make clear the number of soldiers who were missing or whether they were alive.
Reports also emerged that an ancient temple in Afrin was badly damaged in Turkish airstrikes that struck its courtyard late on Friday, according to the Observatory, the YPG and the Syrian government.