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Syrian conflict

Turkish forces rampage through Syrian city of Afrin after driving out Kurdish fighters

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 March, 2018, 6:48am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 March, 2018, 9:12am

Turkish-backed forces went on the rampage in the Syrian city Afrin on Sunday, pillaging shops and homes after taking control of the northern city.

After chasing Kurdish fighters from Afrin, the pro-Ankara fighters broke into shops, restaurants and houses and left with foodstuff, electronic equipment, blankets and other goods, correspondents said.

They placed the loot in cars and small trucks and drove them out of the city, they added.

Most of the city’s 350,000 residents have fled since Turkey and allied Syrian rebels on January 20 launched an air and ground offensive to chase out the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

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On Sunday, the Turkish flag was flying in Afrin after Turkish troops and their Syrian allies drove the Kurdish militia out.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor confirmed the reports, saying Turkey’s Syrian allies “have begun pillaging private property, political and military sites and shops”.

A resident of Afrin said earlier in the day that he had seen the pro-Ankara fighters breaking into shops to loot what was inside while others stole cars that had been parked on the streets.

Some fighters were also seen setting fire to shops that sold alcoholic beverages.

And a statue of Kurdish hero Kawa, a symbol of resistance against oppressors, was torn down as Turkish forces and their allies fanned across the city and fired into the air to celebrate their victory.

Turkey sees the YPG as a “terrorist” offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

As Turkey and its allies forces arrived to cement control over Afrin, civilians continued to flee the city.

Around 250,000 civilians left in recent days after pro-Ankara fighters took the surrounding region and all but encircled the city, fleeing southwards to territory still held by the YPG or controlled by the Syrian regime.

On Sunday 13 pro-Turk fighters were killed by landmines during search operations in Afrin, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkish-backed fighters had taken control of the city centre and said a “large number” of Kurdish fighters had “fled with their tails between their legs”.

The Turkish leader has said the operation could move on to other Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Syria.

“Our work is not finished … but terrorism is finished in Afrin,” Turkish government spokesman Bekir Bozdag said.

Residents said it appeared that YPG units had withdrawn from the city without a fight.

But Kurdish authorities vowed to retake Afrin, one of three semi-autonomous Kurdish “cantons” in northern Syria.

“Resistance … will continue until every inch of Afrin is liberated,” authorities representing the Afrin canton said in a statement.

“In all of Afrin’s sectors, our forces will become a permanent nightmare” for pro-Ankara fighters, the statement said, promising “a switch from direct confrontation to hit-and-run attacks.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, says more than 280 civilians have been killed since the campaign began on January 20.

Ankara has denied the reports and said it takes the “utmost care” to avoid civilian casualties.

The Observatory said Sunday that more than 1,500 Kurdish fighters had been killed since the start of the offensive, most of them in air strikes and artillery fire.

More than 400 pro-Ankara rebels have also been killed, it said. The Turkish military says 46 Turkish soldiers have died.

Turkey sees the YPG as a “terrorist” offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

But the Kurdish militia has also formed the backbone of a US-backed alliance that successfully expelled Islamic State jihadist group from large parts of Syria.