A boy injured by a Turkish airstrike is carried by his brother after receiving treatment in Afrin hospital on Tuesday. Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The death toll in Turkey’s military operation in Afrin stands at several hundred, according to Russia’s Foreign Ministry, which denied “betraying” the Kurds in northern Syria, hinting that the blame lies with the United States.
Hundreds have been killed and civilians are among the dead, Maria Zakharova, foreign ministry spokesperson, said in a press conference on Wednesday.
According to conflict monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 67 civilians, including 20 children and 12 women, have been killed in 11 days of Turkey’s “Operation Olive Branch.” Another 185 have been injured.
The Observatory reported the deaths of at least 91 Kurdish YPG forces and other local fighters, as well as at least nine Turkish soldiers. Additionally, the Observatory stated that 85 of Turkey's Free Syrian Army (FSA) proxy fighters have been killed.
Ankara denies that any civilians have been killed.
“No civilian has been harmed in Operation Olive Branch” by Turkish forces or their allied Syrian militias, Turkey’s National Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli said on Tuesday, according to state-run Anadolu Agency.
While denying civilian casualties, he accused Kurdish forces in Afrin of using civilians as human shields and asserted that the lack of deaths among the civilian population showed Turkey’s “sincerity and sensitivity.”
Zakharova said Russia is seriously concerned about the situation in northern Syria and urged all parties to show restraint.
'Not us' creating conditions that Turkey deems threatening
Responding to accusations that Russia had betrayed Kurds by not preventing Turkey’s operation, she implied the United States should carry responsibility.
“We would like to note that it was not us who consistently created the conditions in northern Syria that Turkey considered a threat to its national security. We are not responsible for impeding the restoration of legitimate Syrian government’s control in that region,” she stated.
Ankara has repeatedly condemned US support for the Kurdish forces in Syria and has claimed that weapons given to the YPG for the war against ISIS are being used against Turkey. Turkey’s ire was most recently stoked when the United States announced it was forming a border force in northern Syria, though US officials subsequently walked back that statement.
“It was not us who has been building up forces in these areas to perform functions that belong solely to the Syrian state, and thus inciting separatism,” Zakharova stated.
She stressed Russia’s commitment to Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected.
Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday. They discussed the Sochi peace conference and “further coordination of efforts by Russia and Turkey to maintain the stable operation of the de-escalation zones,” the Kremlin stated.
Turkey’s operation continues. Its armed forces reported airstrikes destroyed 22 targets in Afrin. The Kurdish-led SDF reported that at least 12 injured civilians were brought to Afrin hospital on Wednesday and alleged Turkey was using “unconventional weapons.”
Sinam Mohamad, foreign representative for the Rojava administration of Kurdish-held northern Syria, reported on Tuesday that Turkey had used “internationally banned cluster bombs” on villages in the Jandaris area of southwest Afrin.
A political and media advisor to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said that “Turkish and US invading forces” will “replace terrorism in northern Syria,” according to state-run SANA news agency. Bouthaina Shaaban said these outside actors mobilized their forces when the Syrian regime began to win the “battle against terrorism on Syrian soil.”
In Turkey’s Hatay province, which borders western Afrin, a 17-year-old girl was killed by a rocket launched from Syria on Wednesday, AFP reported, citing Turkish officials.
Updated at 7:16 pm