ANKARA: Turkey has “never used” chemical weapons in Syria and accusations that it had done so during its offensive against a Syrian Kurdish militia are “baseless,” a Turkish diplomatic source said on Saturday.
Turkey last month launched military operation dubbed “Olive Branch” supporting Syrian rebels with ground troops and air strikes against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia viewed as “terrorists” by Ankara.
The Turkish source was reacting to claims by the head of Afrin hospital in northern Syria that six men were treated late Friday after shelling during the offensive and had symptoms that were in line with exposure to toxic agents.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said shelling from either Turkey or allied factions hit Al-Sheikh Hadid, west of the town of Afrin, and left six people with “enlarged pupils” and “breathing difficulties.”
Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP he could not confirm whether toxic gases were used.
But the Turkish source said Ankara took the “utmost care” regarding civilian safety and that the claims Turkey was responsible for an alleged gas attack were “baseless.”
“Turkey never used chemical weapons,” the source added. “(These are) lies... this is black propaganda.”
Turkey says the YPG is linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
The PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by the United States and the European Union.
But the YPG has been working closely with Washington to oust the Daesh extremist group from Syria, which has strained relations between the two NATO allies.
The Observatory says at least 78 civilians have died during Turkey’s operation but Ankara repeatedly insists it is taking all the necessary measures to protect civilians.
Kurds rally in France
In the French city of Strasbourg, thousands of Kurds took to the streets on Saturday to call for the release of jailed PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan and protest against Turkey’s military offensive in Syria.
“UN, take your responsibility and stop the genocide in Afrin,” read one banner, referring to the region in northern Syria where Turkey is waging a campaign against a Syrian Kurd militia.
The protesters who came from across Europe also waved Kurdish flags and pictures of the leader of the outlawed PKK, chanting “Freedom for Ocalan.”
There was a strong police presence at the demonstration, which police said attracted 11,000 people while organizers put the number at between 25,000-30,000.
The march has taken place each year in the city that hosts the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe since Ocalan was detained in 1999.
Ocalan, the figurehead of the PKK’s bloody insurgency against the Turkish state, remains behind bars on a prison island off Istanbul.
Ankara launched an offensive in the Afrin area of northern Syria last month against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) which it considers a terror group but which is allied with US forces in the fight against the Daesh group.
“(Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan is becoming very aggressive toward the Kurds and the situation is getting a lot worse, year after year, month after month,” said Newroz, who came from Germany to attend the rally with his sister and friends.
“Erdogan is a 100 percent dictator, every European should know this,” added Okce, who also came from Germany.