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Syrian conflict

Turkey attacks: jets bomb Kurds while ground forces enter Syria in new offensive called ‘Operation Olive Branch’

Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch on Saturday, conducting air strikes against Kurdish positions, while ground forces entered the country on Sunday

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 January, 2018, 5:11pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 January, 2018, 9:37pm

Turkish ground troops entered Syria on Sunday to push an offensive against Kurdish militia as rocket fire hit a border town in apparent retaliation.

Turkey on Saturday launched operation “Olive Branch” seeking to oust from the Afrin region of northern Syria the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) which Ankara considers a terror group.

But the campaign risks further increasing tensions with Turkey’s Nato ally the United States – which has supported the YPG in the fight against Islamic State – and also needs at least the tacit support of Russia to succeed.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said troops crossed into the YPG-controlled region in Syria at 08:05 GMT, the Dogan news agency reported.

Turkish artillery and warplanes pounded YPG sites around Afrin and 153 targets, including YPG refuges and weapons stores have been hit, according to the army.

The state-run Anadolu news agency said the Turkish troops, whose number was not specified, were advancing Western-backed rebels and were already 5km (3 miles) inside Syria.

An AFP correspondent on the southwestern edge of the Afrin region saw a warplane bombing the western outskirts of the area early on Sunday.

A small unit from a Turkish-backed rebel group was manning a monitoring point on a hilltop overlooking several Kurdish-controlled villages below.

The operation is Turkey’s second major incursion into Syria during the seven-year civil war after the August 2016-March 2017 Euphrates Shield campaign in an area to the east of Afrin against the YPG and IS.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had repeatedly vowed that Turkey would root out the “nests of terror” in Syria of the YPG, which Ankara accuses of being the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The PKK, which has waged a rebellion in the Turkish southeast for more than three decades, is regarded as a terror group not just by Ankara and but also its Western allies.

Afrin is an enclave of YPG control, cut off from the longer strip of northern Syria that the group controls to the east extending to the Iraqi border. Turkey wants the YPG to retreat east of the Euphrates River.

Yildirim was quoted as saying that the Turkish forces aimed to create a security zone some 30km (18 miles) inside Syria.

The YPG said after the first strikes on Saturday 10 people were killed, including seven civilians. The Turkish army said there were casualties but insisted they were all members either of the YPG or the PKK.

A YPG spokesman claimed Turkish forces tried to enter Afrin “but we blocked the attack”.

In a sign of the risks to Turkey, four rockets fired by the YPG hit the border town of Kilis early on Sunday, damaging one building and lightly wounding a woman.

“No one lost their life,” Kilis governor Mehmet Tekinarslan said, quoted by Dogan. “They can fire one rocket at us and we will fire 100 back. There is no need to worry.”