Trump urges Erdogan to ‘deescalate’
US President Donald Trump urged his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan to “deescalate, limit its military actions, and avoid civilian casualties and increases to displaced persons and refugees,” in a phone call between the two leaders on Wednesday, according to a read out from the White House.
“He urged Turkey to exercise caution and to avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces,” the statement adds.
Trump said he was open to closer cooperation “to address Turkey’s legitimate security concerns.”
Second person dies in Kilis rocket attack
A second person has died in the rocket attack on a mosque in Kilis, one Syrian and one Turk, the governor’s office said.
One person killed in rocket attack in Turkey
One person was killed and 13 wounded when a missile hit a mosque in Turkey’s Kilis province, the governor stated Wednesday evening.
According to the official, two rockets were fired from inside Syria – one hit the mosque and the other struck about 100 metres from the first.
Kilis borders northern Afrin.
Ankara has claimed that Kurdish forces allied with the PKK in northern Syria frequently target Turkish territory across the border. The Kurdish forces deny they have fired into Turkey and have only responded to Turkish attacks.
At least 30 civilians killed in five days of clashes: monitor
Total casualties after five days of clashes in Afrin have risen to about 125, UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
This includes at least 30 civilians, two killed by SDF shelling and 28 killed by Turkish artillery and shelling, the Observatory stated.
The conflict monitor estimated that at least 42 YPG and civil defence fighters had been killed and on the Turkish side at least 48 Syrian militias allied with Turkey, as well as casualties within the Turkish army.
The two sides each claim to have inflicted much greater casualties on the other.
Northeastern and western areas of Afrin are under intense bombardment on Wednesday, according to the Observatory, which noted that Turkish planes are a near constant presence in the skies over the Kurdish canton.
AFP reported more Turkish tanks and soldiers building up on the border, preparing to enter Syria as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan touted “successful” progress in the military operation in Afrin and vowed once again to continue to Manbij.
“With the Olive Branch operation, we have once again thwarted the game of those sneaky forces whose interests in the region are different,” he told provincial leaders in Ankara on Wednesday.
Head of the Observatory, Rami Abdulrahman, said that Turkey has "not been able yet to shore up its control over any of the villages it has advanced on," due to fierce resistance from the local YPG and the hilly terrain, Reuters reported.
The United States is concerned about Turkey’s operation damaging what was a “relatively stable” area of Syria, “And now civilians are faced with "Do we have to flee? Are we safe? Is something going to happen to us?" US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters on Tuesday.
“We don't want that kind of situation for Syria. We would like for people to be able to stay in their homes and return to their homes in Syria, and this, what is taking place with Turkey right now, defeats that,” she explained.
She qualified, however, that the US sympathizes with Turkey on the PKK issue.
“However, we do understand that Turkey, as a valuable NATO ally, has concerns about the PKK,” she said, adding that the United States is looking at ways to support Turkey on that matter.
Turkey has justified its operation as self-defence and counter-terrorism, claiming it is combatting groups aligned with the PKK and ISIS.
“We do not see ISIS in that area,” Nauert said, when asked if the terror group had any presence in Afrin as Turkey had claimed.
Foreign volunteers join YPG in Afrin
“Tens” of foreign fighters volunteering with the SDF and fighting ISIS in Syria’s eastern Deir ez-Zor province have gone to assist the YPG in Afrin, a senior SDF official has stated.
“There was a desire on the part of the foreign fighters who fought in Raqqa and who were fighting in Deir ez-Zor to go to Afrin,” the SDF’s Redur Xelil to Reuters.
The foreigners come from around the world – the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and other European, Asian, and American nations, he added, though declined to give an exact number.
Damascus had permitted Kurdish forces to send reinforcements to Afrin canton through Aleppo province, according to reports last week from media with ties to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Citing military sources, Al-Masdar News reported that the YPG had sent hundreds of forces to Afrin.
Turkish strikes kill 6 civilians on Wednesday, Observatory
Turkish strikes killed six people on Wednesday as the operation to drive out Kurdish defenders in Afrin continues for the fifth day in a row, raising the total for civilian deaths to 30, a conflict monitor group reported.
Four people, two women and two children died as the result of Turkish airstrikes in Jandaris district, east of Afrin city and its surroundings, as well two civilians in Kaljibirin, west of Afrin, the UK-Based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights stated.
It also reported Turkish airstrikes against Kurdish-held areas in Sherawa, Bulbul, north of Afrin city near the Turkish borders.
Turkey denies it targets civilian populated areas.
The Observatory shared a video on its Facebook page that it says it shows the destruction caused by Turkish airstrikes in a populated neighbourhood in Jandaris.
It shows a man visiting his demolished house, lamenting that he lost a house that took him his entire life to build.
“I worked for this house with my blood,” the man said.
“I cut on expenses to my children including their food until I was able to construct this house. In one minute, because of rockets, they undo all the rebuilding. May God not forgive them,” he added.
Video: Syrian Observatory for Human Rights
Erdogan hints at sending 3.5 million Syrians refugees into Afrin
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan again has hinted at Ankara’s long-term plan for the ongoing Turkish military offensive against the Kurdish-held areas in Syrian Kurdistan to relocate 3.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey to the targeted areas.
He claimed that Syrian refugees refuse to go back to areas which are under the control of the Kurdish forces such as Kobane, even though the ISIS militants are defeated, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported the president as saying on Wednesday.
Afrin, a relatively peaceful area in northwestern Syria, is home to at least half a million Syrian people displaced from the rest of the country, many of them of Arab origins, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Syrian civil war began in 2011 and was further destabilized by the rise of ISIS in 2014. The UN estimates that more than 400,000 Syrians have died and more than half of all Syrians have been displaced at one time or another.
Erdogan repeated his accusation that he sees no difference between the US-backed YPG force in Afrin, and the ISIS militants.
The Kurdish Protection Units (YPG) were the backbone force in the US-led campaign against the ISIS militants in Syria that culminated with the defeat of ISIS in its de facto capital of Raqqa, and then is continuing clearing operations in the eastern province of Deir ez-Zor.
The United Nations has reported that at least 5,000 people displaced from their homes into Afrin city due to the Turkish offensive that began on Saturday against the governorate.
AA added that the movements of people have partly been restricted due to the Kurdish authorities refusing to allow civilians to leave the city and go elsewhere such as the Syrian-regime held areas south of Afrin.
Erdogan said that plan number one for Ankara is to eliminate “terrorists” from the Kurdish-held areas and then turn these places “suitable” for 3.5 million Syrian refugees to live in.
Ankara is the only country that considers the YPG a terrorist organization. The US-led anti-ISIS Coalition has been working with the YPG since at least late-2014 when Kobane was under ISIS siege.
YPG is the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab forces that are fighting the ISIS militants in Syria with the support of the Coalition.
The Turkish President claimed that the military and their Syrian proxies have lost only 8 fighters since the operation began, as opposed to 268 “terrorists.”
YPG has admitted to only three deaths on its side.
2 civilians killed as Turkish military targets Kurdish villages in Afrin
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Two civilians have been killed by Turkish airstrikes on Wednesday in a town northwest of the Kurdish canton of Afrin, an area Ankara wants to clear of US-backed Kurdish fighters as part of an ongoing military operation since Saturday.
Ramazan Almadar, a rights activist based in Afrin, told Rudaw that the Turkish airstrikes targeted villages of Rajo town causing material and human losses, killing two civilians.
The town is the capital of Rajo district where local media have reported at least 10 airstrikes this morning.
Turkey, through its four-day operation, has denied that they have targeted civilians.
Kurdish forces have said that all attempts by the Turkish military to control villages outside of Afrin city have failed.
Afrin is one of three cantons that collectively form the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, a Kurdish enclave otherwise known as Rojava, established shortly after the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
Fawziya Yousif, the executive head of the Federation in Rojava, told reporters that while it was Turkey who began the offensive, the Kurdish fighters will have the last say over when it ends.
Afrin, the western-most canton of the Rojava administration is cut from the other two cantons located to the east, a fact the Kurdish leader said has to end.
“Turkey will divide Syria unless the regions [cantons] do not reach one another,” Yousif said, adding that Rojava has to fight the Turkish military and their proxies in order to foil Turkey’s plans to divide the country.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who says the military operation will continue despite the growing international pressure, has vowed to “crush” the Kurdish fighters in Afrin.
Ankara claims that the YPG, the mostly-Kurdish armed force in control of the Syrian Kurdistan, is an extension of the PKK, an armed group that is fighting for greater national and cultural rights of millions of Kurds in Turkey but considered a terrorist organization by Ankara. YPG denies any organic links to the PKK.
The two sides have claimed they inflicted big damage on one another, with death casualties, but tend to minimize their own figures. Ankara reported only two deaths among its military, while the YPG has acknowledged the deaths of at least three of its fighters.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has estimated that 106 people were killed in the Afrin area since the start of Turkey’s military offensive until Tuesday. The conflict monitor reported on Tuesday that 23 civilians were among the casualties, 38 YPG fighters, two Turkish soldiers, and at least 43 Syrian militiamen backed by Turkey.
France President Emmanuel Macron, among others, expressed his concerns over the Turkish military operation against Afrin when he held a phone call with his Turkish counterpart Erdogan.
At the request of France, the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on Monday that also expressed concerns but failed to condemn the offensive.
According to Kurdish sources, more than 1.2 million live in the canton, many of whom have sought shelter in the relatively peaceful Kurdish governorate after being displaced from the rest of Syria because of the ongoing civil war.
About half a million of the populations in Afrin are internally displaced persons (IDPs), Rami Abdul Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory told France 24 on Tuesday.
Turkey also has claimed that they target “ISIS” militants in Afrin, but there are no credible reports about ISIS militants in the targeted area.
Rahman, from the Observatory, whose organization have a network of people on the ground, has challenged Turkey to show “where ISIS militants are” in Afrin.