Turkish soldiers and Turkish-backed Syrian rebel fighters are seen around the area of Mount Barsaya, north of Azaz near the border with Turkey on January 22, 2018. Photo: Nazeer al-Khatib | AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Turkey claimed to have taken control of a strategic Afrin hilltop from the Kurdish YPG on Sunday afternoon after fierce clashes raged since early morning.
Mount Barsaya was “cleared of PYD/PKK terrorists,” state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
Turkish forces launched an attack on the hilltop early Sunday morning.
“The Turkish invading army carried out a heavy ground attack on Qastal hill in the early hours of the morning in Shara district, and our troops confronted them and clashed with the attackers,” the SDF announced Sunday morning.
Qastal hill and Mount Barsaya are alternative names for the same peak.
The SDF said on Sunday morning that they repelled an initial Turkish assault, but warplanes then began bombarding the area.
UK-based conflict monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the airstrikes.
The area is home to several Yezidi villages. Activist organization Yazda warned last week that Turkey’s operation puts the safety of thousands of Syrian Yezidis at risk.
In a speech on Sunday morning, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to take the site. "God willing soon we will go down on Barsaya hill,” he said, threatening, "Those who invaded our borders will pay a heavy price."
He went on to threaten to go as far as Qandil, PKK headquarters in the Kurdistan Region mountains.
Afrin’s mountainous northeast region overlooks Syria’s Azaz city, under control of Turkey and their Syrian allies, and Turkey’s Kilis province. Turkey briefly took control of Mount Barsaya last Monday, but the Kurdish forces regained control the following day.
Ankara has accused the YPG of launching missiles into Turkey from the hilltops in northeastern Afrin. Anadolu reported that at least three civilians were injured by rockets fired from Afrin hit in Turkey on Saturday.
The Observatory reported that violent clashes were taking place in western Afrin where the SDF stated that a “massacre” of civilians took place Sunday morning.
“The Turkish army killed a number of civilians during raids on Haj Khalil village,” in the Rajo area of western Afrin, the SDF stated.
The Observatory reported that Turkish shelling in Kubla village in southwest Afrin, resulted in the death of "at least three people from one family, including a child, and seven people injured from one family, including children."
The Observatory warned that the death toll might rise due the severeness of injuries.
And the SDF reported Turkish airstrikes Sunday on Maydanki dam, 12 kilometres north of Afrin city. The dam provides water for the majority of Afrin’s olive and fruit orchards, as well as drinking water and hydroelectricity.
The YPG warned that damage or destruction of the dam could cause a flood on Afrin city.
Syria’s Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums, under the Ministry of Culture, condemned Turkish bombardment that destroyed an archaeological site, Ain Dara temple – built by the Arameans during the first millennium BC.
“This attack reflects the hatred and barbarism of the Turkish regime against the Syrian identity and against the past, present and future of the Syrian people,” the Directorate stated, appealing for the world to condemn Turkey’s “aggression” and prevent targeting of cultural sites in Afrin.
Turkey launched its Operation Olive Branch on January 20, declaring they would not allow the formation of a “terror corridor” on the border. Ankara maintains the Kurdish forces in northern Syria are a branch of the outlawed PKK. The Kurds maintain they are distinct organizations.
Updated at 3:57 pm