Turkish forces fire on Kurdish-controlled Afrin in northern Syria killing 18 civilians

More than 10,000 people flee Afrin in 24 hours as YPG and YPJ prepare for imminent ground attack from Turkish troops and allied Syrian militias 

Friday 16 March 2018 11:48
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At least 30,000 people have fled Afrin since fighting broke out two months ago, a city once seen as a beacon of refugee for those fleeing Isis
At least 30,000 people have fled Afrin since fighting broke out two months ago, a city once seen as a beacon of refugee for those fleeing Isis

Turkish shelling of the Syrian town of Afrin overnight has killed at least 18 civilians, Kurdish forces and a war monitor have said.

The Turkish army and allied Syrian militias have encircled the Kurdish-controlled town and are attempting to storm it from the north, YPG militia spokesperson Brusk Hasakah said on Friday.

Hundreds of families have fled the town for Syrian government controlled areas, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, as the YPG and its female affiliate the YPJ prepare for a battle to control of the town.

Explosions as Turkey confirms airstrikes on Afrin, Syria

At least 12 people were killed on Thursday.

“Our staff are doing their best, but our rooms are filled with wailing wounded and people in pain, as we lack some medical supplies,” Dr Joan Shitika, head of Afrin hospital, told the German news agency DPA.

Turkey’s two-month-old Operation Olive Branch is aimed at driving Kurdish forces away from the border region between the two countries.

Turkey views the Syrian Kurdish fighters as an extension of its own separatist PKK, a group designated as a terrorist organisation by Ankara as well as the EU and US.

The air and ground offensive launched in January opened a new front in Syria’s complicated conflict which has already killed at least 200 civilians in air strikes, shelling and sniper fire. Some 30,000 people have been displaced by the fighting.

Rights groups have condemned the Turkish operation as causing “unlawful” civilian deaths by failing to take necessary precautions before carrying out air strikes. The Turkish Defence Minister, Nurettin Canikli, has previously dismissed reports of harmed civilians as false.

The YPG and broader Arab-Kurdish coalition Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are supported by the West as the most effective ground force against Isis. In January the US pledged continued support for the YPG and SDF to ensure the jihadi militants do not form a resurgent movement – a strategy which enraged Turkey and contributed to the decision to launch the Afrin offensive.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened his troops could reach Manbij in the northeast, a move which could potentially put the US and Turkey, Nato allies, on opposites sides of the front lines.

The Syrian government has sided with the YPG against Turkey. Ankara has said it has no intention of handing over control of Afrin to the regime once it has driven out Kurdish forces.

While the UN demanded a nationwide 30 day ceasefire on 25 February to calm the fighting between the government and rebels, Mr Erdogan has repeatedly said the resolution does not apply to his anti-terror operation.

A draft resolution from the EU on Thursday demanded Turkey halt the assault on Afrin.

"The European Parliament is apparently going to ask for the Afrin operation to be stopped," Mr Erdogan told supporters in Ankara.

"There is a lady [EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini] there who is responsible for [EU] enlargement. She is said to make such a request. Don't get your hopes up, we will not leave there until the job is done. You should know this."

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