Pro-Assad forces in Afrin targeted by Turkey

A convoy of pro-Syrian government fighters entered the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin in Syria Tuesday before they were targeted by Turkish artillery fire in a dramatic escalation of the conflict in northern Syria.

The convoy of pro-Syrian government fighters in pickup trucks mounted with heavy weapons entered Afrin, where Turkey has been conducting a month-long military operation.

Video clips posted on Twitter showed fighters in camouflage fatigues and waving Syrian flags crossing a checkpoint that bore the insignia of a Kurdish security force.

“One Syria, one Syria!” some of them chanted.

But shortly after they entered the Kurdish-held enclave, the pro-Damascus forces came under Turkish artillery fire and turned back, said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

At a news conference in Ankara, Erdogan said the convoy was made up of “terrorists” acting independently.

“Unfortunately, these kind of terror organisations take wrong steps with the decisions they take. It is not possible for us to allow this. They will pay a heavy price,” said Erdogan.

The Syrian Kurdish YPG (Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Unit) however denied Erdogan’s assertion that the convoy had turned back under Turkish artillery fire.

YPG officials hailed the arrival of the pro-government forces — which included militias allied to Assad but not the Syrian army itself — and said Damascus had heeded its call for help against Turkey.

The British-based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said one convoy had entered Afrin while another turned back.

On Monday, Syria’s official news agency SANA said “popular forces” backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would enter the Afrin enclave “within hours” to “bolster” local forces confronting Turkish “aggression”.

The claim was denied Monday afternoon by theYPG,underscoring the difficult negotiations between Kurdish forces and the Assad regime.

The latest confrontation pits the Turkish army and their allied rebels directly against the military alliance backing Assad, further scrambling the already messy battlefield in northern Syria.

Erdogan claims agreement with Putin and Rouhani

Earlier Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkish forces would “swiftly” lay siege to the centre of the town of Afrin “in the coming days”.

His remarks to parliament came as Turkey’s operation “Olive Branch”, a ground and air offensive against the YPG militia, which Ankara brands “terrorists”, entered its second month.

Erdogan said he had previously reached an agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, Assad’s main international backers, to block Syrian government support for the YPG fighters.

Turkey and Russia have supported opposite sides throughout the war, with Moscow the closest ally of Assad and Ankara one of the principal supporters of rebels fighting to overthrow him.

However, in recent months Turkey has lent support to a Russian-led effort to end the war with most population centres in the hands of Assad’s government. Ankara said last month it sought Moscow’s agreement before launching the Afrin assault.

But speaking to FRANCE 24, Peter Ford, former British ambassador to Syria, explained that while Russia would like to protect its important relationship with Turkey, “when push comes to shove, Russia will side with Syria. It’s noticeable that the Turks have not been able to use their air force in Afrin. Why? Because the Russians won’t let them. The Russians can determine who is allowed into Syrian airspace west of the Euphrates [River] and Afrin is west of the Euphrates”, Ford explained.

Assad’s other main ally, Iran, is more closely involved than Russia with the militias that back the Syrian government on the ground, such as those who entered Afrin on Tuesday.

The Turkish offensive has made gains along almost all the border area with Afrin, pushing several kilometres (miles) into Syria and seizing villages. But the YPG still holds most of the region including its main town, also called Afrin.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)

  • Niemals

    The Turkish invasion of Syria, sets new standards.

    Foreign states are turning more and more uninhibitedly into war in Syria.

    On Monday Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu warned that his country would not allow the Syrian government to support the YPG’s Kurdish militias.
    Naturally Turkey calls them “terrorists”.
    Cavusoglu is not very interested in the fact that the Syrian government operates exclusively on national territory.

    “We are there to create a safe environment,” said Recep Tayyip Erdogan, explaining the attack on the neighboring country.

    According to Erdogan, safe spaces for the return of Syrian refugees should be created there.
    But they did not flee from the Kurds, but mostly from the reckless violence of the Assad regime and the terror of jihadist groups such as the “Islamic State”.
    All this did not occur in Erdogan’s speech.

    What moves Moscow to agree to Turkey’s attack is currently the subject of speculation.

    Russians wanted to drive a wedge between the two NATO members Turkey and USA.

  • Niemals

    The Turkish invasion of Syria, sets new standards. The center of Syrian Afrin is entirely under Turkish control. A Turkish soldier hoisted Turkey’s flag over a building in central Afrin Is Afrin now a part of Turkey?

    Two months after the start of their offensive, the Turkish army and its allies have penetrated into the northern Syrian city. According to President Erdoğan, the center is completely under Turkish control.

    Turkey’s military offensive has sparked tensions in the Kurdish community in Europe, with thousands taking to the streets to protest the bloody campaign. Kurdish political leaders have warned of a campaign of ethnic cleansing in the northern Syrian enclave. Kurds and leftist allies marches in cities across Europe, including Hanover and Athens
    “Kurds are face-to-face against slaughter in multiple geographies,” Pervin Buldan, co-chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HPD), told more than 10,000 protesters in Hanover on Saturday. The HDP is the third-largest party in the Turkish parliament. (AP, AFP, Reuters)