A Kurdish woman cries as they gather on Newroz in the village Fafin in northern Aleppo on March 21, 2018. Photo: George Ourfalian | AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Turkey has begun its takeover of Tal Rifaat, in the northern Aleppo countryside on Tuesday, where at least 50,000 people displaced from Afrin have sought shelter.
Turkey's Euphrates Shield Operation announced that the operation began on Tuesday.
Turkey's Anadolu Agency reported that 500 people including civilians and members of the Free Syrian Army asked Turkey to extend its Operation Olive Branch into Tal Rifaat.
“God willing, we will achieve this operation’s goal by taking control of Tal Rifaat within a short period," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday.
The YPG has said their forces are determined to resist any Turkish military offensive on the Shahba region, the countryside north of Afrin that includes the town of Tal Rifaat.
"Concerning the allegations of Tal Rifaat's occupation by Turkey and armed groups embedded with it, all these allegations are untrue and fall within the framework of a media war. Our forces are in the Shahba areas and will resist any occupation attempt,” said Brusk Hasake, the YPG spokesperson for Afrin.
Turkey and Russia reached an agreement on Monday night that allowed Ankara to initiate the operation, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
As of late Tuesday afternoon, Turkish forces and their allied Syrian militias have halted at the outskirts of Tal Rifaat, the Observatory said, denying the forces had entered the town.
“The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and fighters loyal to the regime refused to retreat due to the presence of thousands of displaced from Afrin,” the Observatory added.
More than 50,000 people displaced from Afrin are in the town about 30 kilometers north of Aleppo city.
Pro-Syrian government al-Masdar news also reported that the operation was underway on Tuesday, but denied Turkey and its proxies have entered the town.
Rida al-Basha, an al-Mayadeen reporter, in a Facebook post, disclosed that their sources in Tal Rifaat dismissed the news as “false” that coordination to enter the town was underway between the Turkish army and armed groups.
The sources reported that the Syrian Arab Army is spread across the frontlines of Tal Rifaat. The source confirmed that official Syrian institutions, the Red Crescent, and the town's municipality are currently doing their job normally.
Syria's state-run SANA news agency reported the Syrian government has called for Turkey to leave the country.
SANA cited an unnamed source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as saying that because the Turkish regime has said the security threat posed by the YPG in Afrin has disappeared, the AKP government should withdraw its invading forces which are in violation of international law.
The source called for an "immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Turkish occupation forces from Syrian territory."
If Turkey and its Free Syrian Army proxies succeed in the Tal Rifaat operation, it would unite their Olive Branch and Euphrates Shield operations.
Updated at 5:42 pm