Turkish military says has encircled Syria’s Afrin town

A Turkish military tank is seen during battles between Turkish-led forces and Kurdish fighters, on the outskirts of the town of Jandairis, in the region of Afrin, near the Turkish border on March 7, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 13 March 2018
0

Turkish military says has encircled Syria’s Afrin town

ANKARA: Turkey’s military and its rebel allies have encircled the northern Syrian town of Afrin, the Turkish armed forces said on Tuesday, marking as substantial advance in Turkey’s offensive against Kurdish fighters across its southern border.
Turkey launched its operation, dubbed “Olive Branch,” in northern Syria nearly two months ago to sweep the Syrian Kurdish YPG from the Turkish border. Turkey sees the YPG as a terrorist group and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
The forces encircled Afrin town and also captured “areas of critical importance” in the region as of Monday, the Turkish military said in a statement.
On Monday, a Turkish government spokesman said the armed forces had gained control of more than half the area and vowed to clear the Afrin town of militants.
President Tayyip Erdogan last week said Turkish forces had besieged the Afrin town and were nearing its town center, but a YPG spokesman later denied this, saying the regions claimed to be under Turkish control were still battlegrounds.
Since the start of its offensive, Turkey has also threatened to push its military operations to Manbij, further east, to sweep Syrian Kurdish fighters from the length of its borders.
Turkey’s repeated threats to push to Manbij have caused complications with NATO ally the United States, which has its troops deployed in the area and is backing the YPG in the fight against Islamic State, a move that has infuriated Ankara.


First Russia air strikes hit south Syria as assault looms

Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad began ramping up their air strikes and artillery fire on the zone. (AP)
Updated 35 min 21 sec ago
0

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.