Civilans fleeing Afrin sit in the back of a pick up truck upon their arrival into government-controlled territory on Tuesday. Photo: George Ourfalian/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – France’s foreign minister has questioned Turkey’s military push into Afrin’s urban centre in the interior of the canton, saying that border security concerns cannot justify such a move.
“If Turkey’s concerns over the border are legitimate… this absolutely does not justify the action by Turkish troops deep inside the Afrin area,” France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told the parliament on Tuesday, AFP reported.
"In no circumstances does it justify military operations that put civilian populations in danger," he added.
His comments come as Turkey is advancing on the city of Afrin from the south, a conflict monitor reported, after the Turkish army earlier claimed it had fully surrounded
the largest urban centre in the canton.
Turkey has framed its operation as one of counter-terrorism, taking the position that the armed Kurdish YPG and political party PYD are branches of the banned PKK.
Turkey has reported deadly cross-border shelling on villages near the Syrian border.
The Kurdish groups deny that they are tied to the PKK and the YPG have been a key ally of the global anti-ISIS coalition.
International allies of the Kurds, including France, the UK, and the United States, have urged all parties in Syria to not detract from the war against ISIS, but have said they understand Turkey has legitimate border security concerns.
In late February, Turkey took full control of Afrin’s international borders. Turkish forces then began their push into the interior of Afrin, most recently targeting the urban centres.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights denied that Turkey has physically surrounded Afrin city, but they are within firing range, monitoring the final areas not under their control, effectively putting the city under a “firearm siege,” the monitor stated.
Turkey has claimed to be in control of more than 1,100 square kilometres of Afrin territory, as of Monday.
The YPG denied the Turkish gains, saying they still “military zones and a battlefield where military operations are carried out on a daily basis,” in a statement on Tuesday.
The force warned people to avoid the areas where operations are ongoing, saying anyone in the area “be a legitimate target for our fighters.”
More than 16,000 civilians have been displaced during the past few days, trying to reach the towns of Nubl and al-Zahra, north of Aleppo and under Syrian regime control. People were playing smugglers large amounts of money to bring them out of Afrin and some were shot while trying to flee the city, the Observatory reported.
The city has been under frequent bombardment and its water and electricity services have been interrupted.
More than 200 civilians have been reported killed since Turkey launched its Operation Olive Branch on January 20.
Speaking in the UK parliament on Monday, Alistair Burt, Minister of State for the Middle East, said they have raised concerns for civilians repeatedly with Turkey, including at the leader level, and Ankara has assured London it is working to protect civilians.
“We believe the Turkish government and we will hold them
to their statement,” said Burt.
The UK has sought to ensure that aid is in place for civilians who flee Afrin, he added, noting that international aid agencies left Afrin when Turkey began its military offensive.