Turkish forces and rebel allies take Afrin town centre from Kurds

19 March, 2018, 15:24 | Author: Sherman Richardson
  • European Union

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was in Eastern Ghouta on Sunday, visiting regime forces as they increase their foothold in the previously rebel-held area.

Most have left through a Syrian army corridor near Hammouriyeh. This is giving the public appearance that the fight is nearly over.

Throughout the day some 20,000 people did manage to stream out of the last rebel stronghold near Damascus, taking the total number to escape the carnage over the past three days to an estimated 50,000, the monitor said. The fall of Eastern Ghouta means increased security for the capital region, and will likely mean Syria can change their priority to fighting rebels in more remote parts of Syria.

Ankara says the YPG is an extension of the PKK, a marxist Kurdish militant group that has been waging an insurgency in southeast Turkey since the 1980s.

Kurdish official Othman Sheik Issa said a new phase of the fight will begin against Turkey, threatening "hit-and-run tactics" to target Turkish troops and their allied forces.

Thousands of terrified Syrian civilians fled for their lives on Saturday, as they sought to escape two raging offensives in a rebel bastion outside Damascus and a northwestern Kurdish enclave.

Assad met with soldiers in Eastern Ghouta on Sunday, the presidency said, in the leader's first trip to the region in years. She said clashes in the town were still underway.

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The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Syrian government is now in control of over 80 percent of the area. The YPG and the Observatory had said a Turkish air strike on the town's main hospital killed 16 people the night before.

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In Afrin, AFP correspondents saw Turkish forces and their Syrian allies in all neighborhoods of the city after they made a lightning advance inside on Sunday. The violence left almost 1,400 people dead, more than 5,000 wounded and forced tens of thousands to seek shelter in areas under government control. "Some sleep in cars or on the roadside", said the person, asking not to be named, adding that rent prices in the area had soared.

The capture of Afrin would be a major victory in Turkey's campaign against the YPG, which Ankara considers a terrorist group.

Azad Mohamed, a resident of Afrin who fled the fighting, said he spent two days on the road until he reached relatives in eastern Syria.

He added Turkish special forces had deployed in the city.

Turkey launched an earlier cross-border operation in 2016 to clear an area in northern Syria of IS and the YPG, preventing the Kurdish group from linking Afrin with the much larger territories it holds to the east.

The Observatory said that almost 200,000 people have fled the region of Afrin over the past days and entered government-controlled areas nearby, adding that 11 people were killed Saturday when a shell hit a truck carrying fleeing people.



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