Turkey-led forces enter Syria's Afrin city: monitor

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels enter the village of Qastal Koshk, north of Afrin on March 16, 2018, following battles between Turkish-backed forces and Kurdish fighters. (Nazeer Al-Khatib/AFP)
Updated 18 March 2018
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Turkey-led forces enter Syria's Afrin city: monitor

BEIRUT: Turkish forces and their rebel allies have entered Syria's Kurdish-majority city of Afrin and taken control of several districts, a war monitor said on Sunday.
"Fighting is ongoing inside the city, where Turkish forces and allied rebels have seized some neighbourhoods," the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.
Pro-Ankara Syrian rebels said they "broke into the city from the eastern and western sides" to seize the neighbourhoods of Ashrafieh and Jamiliyyeh.
Civilians hiding in basements inside the city could hear fighting outside and people shouting "God is greatest", one resident told AFP.
Turkish-led forces have advanced rapidly into the Kurdish enclave around Afrin city near the Turkish border since launching an assault on it almost two months ago.
They are fighting the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia, which Ankara considers a "terrorist" offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
But the Kurdish militia has also formed the backbone of an American-backed alliance that has expelled the Islamic State jihadist group from large parts of Syria.
More than 1,500 Kurdish fighters have been killed in a two-month assault by Turkish forces and allied Syrian rebels on the Kurdish enclave of Afrin, a monitor said Sunday.
Most of them were killed air strikes and artillery fire, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.
More than 400 pro-Ankara rebels had been killed since January 20, the Observatory said.
Meanwhile the Observatory says more than 280 civilians have been killed in the offensive since January 20, but Ankara denies the reports and says it takes the "utmost care" to avoid civilian casualties.
More than 200,000 civilians have fled Afrin city in the past three days, the Observatory says.


French envoy returns to Italy as friendship rekindles

Updated 13 min 16 sec ago
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French envoy returns to Italy as friendship rekindles

  • Ties between the traditionally close allies have grown increasingly tense since mid-2018, with Italy’s Deputy Prime Ministers Luigi di Maio and Matteo Salvini firing verbal pot-shots at Macron and his government
  • The recall came after di Maio met members of France’s “yellow vest” movement, which has mounted sometimes violent protests against Macron’s liberal economic reform program.

PARIS: France’s ambassador to Italy returned to Rome on Friday, eight days after his recall by President Emmanuel Macron, as the European neighbors defused their worst diplomatic crisis since World War Two.
A senior French diplomat described the recall as “electro-shock therapy” necessary to end to “repeated, baseless” attacks by Italian political leaders against France.
Some commentators saw the recall as over-reaction, but French officials said it had persuaded Italian politicians to reaffirm publicly their friendship with Paris and halt their verbal onslaught — at least for now.
“We blew the whistle loud enough to make everybody stop,” the diplomat said.
The ambassador was received on his return by Italian President Sergio Mattarella, said a source at Macron’s office. He also delivered a letter from Macron inviting Mattarella to France for a state visit in the coming months.
Ties between the traditionally close allies have grown increasingly tense since mid-2018, with Italy’s Deputy Prime Ministers Luigi di Maio and Matteo Salvini firing verbal pot-shots at Macron and his government, mostly over migration.
The recall came after di Maio met members of France’s “yellow vest” movement, which has mounted sometimes violent protests against Macron’s liberal economic reform program.
Salvini initially wanted to meet Macron directly but later wrote what French diplomats described as a “polite” letter to his counterpart, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, inviting him to Italy, French officials said.
Italy’s president also spoke with Macron by telephone “and they expressed the extent to which (their) ... friendship ... was important and how the two countries needed one another,” French European Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau told private radio station RTL.
But French diplomats do not rule out tensions resurfacing ahead of European elections in May, with Macron and Salvini framing the campaign as a clash between pro-European “progressives” and Euroskeptic nationalists.
Migration policy and French initiatives to bring peace to Libya, a former Italian colony, without consulting Rome have both been sources of tension in recent months.
A split in the Italian coalition government over the fate of an under-construction Alpine rail tunnel linking France and Italy, could also test relations going forward.
There was no immediate comment on the French ambassador’s return from the Italian government.