Erdogan says Turkey will crush Kurdish militia in Afrin
Erdogan says Turkey will crush Kurdish militia in Afrin
The Kurdish YPG militia said Turkish forces inside Syria fired shells into Afrin on Saturday, but no one was wounded.
Turkish troops entered Idlib three months ago after an agreement with Russia and Iran for the three countries to try to reduce fighting between pro-Syrian government forces and rebel fighters in the largest remaining insurgent-held part of Syria.
But the few observation posts which the Turkish army says it has established are close to the dividing line between Arab rebel-held land and the Kurdish-controlled region of Afrin.
“If the terrorists in Afrin don’t surrender we will tear them down,” Erdogan told a congress of his ruling AK Party in the eastern Turkish city of Elazig.
The Kurdish YPG militia said Turkish forces stationed in Syria shelled several Kurdish villages in the Afrin region on Saturday, without causing casualties.
Rojhat Roj, the YPG spokesman in Afrin, told Reuters the shelling was carried out by Turkish forces in Dar Taizaah and Qalat Seman — areas where he said Turkish forces had deployed as part of the agreement with Russia and Iran.
“From our side, there is no shelling at present,” he added.
Erdogan has said the Kurdish YPG militia is trying to establish a “terror corridor” on Turkey’s southern border, linking Afrin with a large Kurdish-controlled area to the east.
In 2016 Turkey launched its Euphrates Shield military offensive in northern Syria to push back Islamic State from the border and drive a wedge between the Kurdish controlled regions.
“With the Euphrates Shield operation we cut the terror corridor right in the middle. We hit them one night suddenly. With the İdlib operation, we are collapsing the western wing,” Erdogan said, referring to Afrin.
He also said Turkey could drive YPG forces out of Manbij. The mainly Arab town lies west of the Euphrates, and Turkey has long demanded that Kurdish fighters pull back east of the river.
“In Manbij, if they break the promises, we will take the matter in our own hands until there are no terrorists left. They will see what we’ll do in about a week,” Erdogan said.
Turkey was a major supporter of rebels fighting to overthrow Syria’s President Bashar Assad, but is alarmed by the strength of Kurdish forces — which Ankara says are linked to Kurdish militants fighting in southeast Turkey.
It has criticized the United States for arming YPG and Arab fighters in the Syrian Democratic Forces, which drove Islamic State out of Raqqa and other parts of Syria.
“The US sent 4,900 trucks of weapons in Syria. We know this. This is not what allies do,” Erdogan said. “We know they sent 2,000 planes full of weapons.”
First Russia air strikes hit south Syria as assault looms
- Russia, the United States, and Jordan agreed in July of last year on a de-escalation zone in rebel-controlled parts of southern Syria that would tamp down hostilities there
- Intense Russian air strikes are hitting towns in Daraa’s eastern countryside for the first time since the cease-fire was agreed in southern Syria last year
BEIRUT: Russia bombed rebel-held parts of southern Syria late Saturday for the first time since brokering a cease-fire there nearly a year ago, a monitor group said, as allied regime troops prepare a ground assault.
Southern Syria is a strategic prize for local and global players involved in the country’s convoluted seven-year war.
After securing the capital Damascus, Syrian President Bashar Assad appears keen to recapture the southern provinces of Daraa and Sweida, still mostly held by rebels.
He has sent military reinforcements there for weeks, dropped flyers demanding rebels surrender, and escalated bombardment in recent days.
Late Saturday night, his Russian allies bombed rebel-held towns in Daraa for the first time since the summer of 2017, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“Intense Russian air strikes are hitting towns in Daraa’s eastern countryside for the first time since the cease-fire was agreed in southern Syria last year,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
The Observatory said the warplanes used Saturday — based on type, location, munitions and flight patterns — had come from the Russian-operated Hmeimim base in coastal Syria.
The Britain-based monitor said at least 25 Russian strikes hit the rebel zones but did not have any casualty figures.
Russia, the United States, and Jordan agreed in July of last year on a de-escalation zone in rebel-controlled parts of southern Syria that would tamp down hostilities there.
Since then, Moscow’s warplanes — active in Syria since 2015 — had refrained from bombing rebel positions in the south.
But violence has been ratcheting up this week as Syrian government forces look to retake the south militarily.
Forces loyal to Assad began ramping up their air strikes and artillery fire on the zone on Tuesday.
At least 19 civilians in rebel-held zones have died since then, according to the Observatory.
Several civilians have also been killed in opposition fire on government zones, with state news agency SANA reporting Saturday that two civilians were killed in Daraa city in rebel shelling.
Some 12,000 people have been displaced from Daraa province in recent days, the Observatory said, with many seeking refuge in poorly-equipped displacement camps further west.
The United Nations has warned that growing violence is putting the lives of 750,000 people in rebel parts of the south in danger.
On Saturday, regime forces took two villages in Daraa province, their first ground gains after days of bombardment, the Observatory said.
“The Russian strikes started around 10:30pm local time (1930 GMT) and stopped after midnight,” said Ibrahim Mohammad, a media activist in the battered rebel town of Busr Al-Harir in Daraa.
He said he and other residents had taken to their basements and bomb shelters as soon as they heard the planes, describing a steady thud of bombardment for nearly two hours.
In an effort to avoid a deadly offensive, international powers are holding talks aimed at reaching a negotiated settlement for Syria’s south.
“All sides should seize the opportunity to negotiate a deal for the conditional return of the Syrian state to the south west and avert a military conclusion that, for all sides and the local population, would be a worse outcome,” wrote the International Crisis Group think tank last week.
“The US, Russia and Jordan, which brokered a south-western cease-fire in 2017, should urgently extend that truce in preparation for a broader settlement,” the report added.
Earlier this month, Assad said contacts were ongoing between Russia, the United States and Israel over the southern front.
“We are giving the political talks a chance, but if they fail, there will be no choice but liberation by force,” he said.
The regime has retaken large parts of Syria from the opposition since Russia intervened militarily on its side in 2015.