Turkish troops push deeper into northern Syria

Turkish troops push deeper into northern Syria
Eastern Ghouta’s 400,000 residents have lived under regime siege since 2013, facing severe food and medicine shortages even before the latest offensive. (AFP)
Updated 04 March 2018

Turkish troops push deeper into northern Syria

Turkish troops push deeper into northern Syria

BEIRUT: Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Saturday Turkish troops have captured a strategic village in the Kurdish-held enclave in northwestern Syria, tightening its grip on Kurdish militia in the sixth week of its offensive on the area.
Yildirim said Turkish soldiers cleared Rajo in Afrin district of “terrorists” and have pushed them back from the border with Turkey.
The premier, speaking at a rally in the central province of Konya, said the Kurdish Afrin district has been “surrounded” by the military, special police and paramilitary forces, as well as allied Syrian opposition fighters.
“Afrin has been surrounded. We have cleared all areas near our borders of terror nests,” he said. He said Turkey would not cease its campaign against “terror.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the Syria conflict, said fierce clashes were still ongoing in Rajo, in Afrin’s northwest.
If confirmed, Rajo would be the largest center in Afrin to be captured since the Turkish offensive began on Jan.20. Turkish borders run along Afrin’s western and northern borders. To the east lies a Syrian territory controlled by Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters. In the south, Syrian government forces control territory.
Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters have been attacking Afrin from the north, west and east, and have formed a crescent around the district.
Turkey said it wants to oust the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, from Afrin. It considers the group a terrorist organization, an extension of a Kurdish insurgency within its own borders. Turkey said 41 of its soldiers have been killed since the operation began.
The offensive has heightened tensions between Turkey and its NATO ally, the United States, which backs the YPG fighting against Daesh militants in eastern Syria. The US has no troop presence in Afrin, but has said it fears the Turkish offensive could distract from the fight against Daesh in the east.
Complicating matters further, fighters loyal to Syria’s government entered Afrin late last month to support the Syrian Kurdish militia, raising the spectre of a possible confrontation between Turkish and pro-government Syrian troops.
Meanwhile, near Damascus, the Syrian government continued to lay siege to the besieged enclave of Eastern Ghouta yesterday. The military news service run by the Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah, named three other areas it said the Syrian Army had captured at the eastern and southeastern rim of the rebel enclave.
With no sign of decisive Western pressure to halt the assault, Eastern Ghouta appears on course to eventually fall to the much more heavily armed government side, which has recaptured many other areas using the same military tactics.