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EDITOR IN CHIEF- ABDULLAH BIN SALIM AL SHUEILI

Turkish forces ramp up Syria incursion despite criticism

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PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron said in an interview on Wednesday that he would have a “real problem” with Turkey’s intervention against a Kurdish militia in Syria if it turned into an outright “invasion”. “If the operation became more than fighting a potential terrorist threat on the Turkish border and turns out to be an invasion operation, we would have a real problem with that,” Macron told Le Figaro daily.


Turkey’s 12-day cross-border offensive against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week threatened to expand, has strained relations with its Nato allies.


Ankara views the YPG as a terror organisation allied to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) inside Turkey but the US has been backing it as a key secular ally in the fight against the IS group.


Reacting to Macron’s remarks Turkish Prime Minister Binaldi Yildirim said any suggestion that Ankara had broader designs in Syria, beyond pushing the YPG back from the border, was “totally wrong”.


“The whole world knows, or should know, that Turkey is not engaged in an invasion,” he told reporters in Ankara, comparing operation “Olive Branch” with a seven-month cross-border Turkish offensive in 2016/2017 against both Kurdish militia and IS fighters.


Turkey’s latest Syrian foray began on January 20, further dampening the prospects of an imminent end to Syria’s seven-year-old civil war.


On Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that if Turkey’s intervention turned into an “occupation” of parts of Syria, it would be “totally reprehensible”.


His remarks came after Erdogan threatened to push further east along the Syrian-Turkish border, until there was “no terrorist on our border leading to Iraq”.


He also vowed to “clean up” the YPG-held city of Manbij east of Afrin, where the US has troops.


Macron said Turkey’s operation required Europe and its allies to “have discussions and take decisions”, without specifying what they might be.


Meanwhile, clashes raged between Turkish-backed forces and Kurdish militia in Syria’s Afrin region on Wednesday, as wounded civilians fled intense Turkish air strikes.


Turkey and allied Syrian rebels have pressed on with Operation Olive Branch in the Kurdish-controlled Afrin enclave despite mounting international concern and reports of rising civilian casualties.


An AFP correspondent in Afrin heard warplanes flying overhead, and Kurdish officials said rocket fire on the town wounded 12 civilians.


The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said heavy bombardment and Turkish air strikes were accompanying ground fighting around Jandairis and Rajo, two areas to the west of Afrin near the Turkish border.


The Britain-based war monitor reported that Turkish-backed forces had seized control of the border village of Shinkal to the northwest.


“Turkish forces dispatched new military reinforcements overnight, including fighters and equipment, to Shinkal in an attempt to consolidate their control over several points and support attacking forces,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.


Turkey and its Syria rebel allies launched Operation Olive Branch against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), on


January 20.


The group has been a key ally of Washington in its fight against the IS militants but Ankara regards it as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a deadly insurgency in southeastern Turkey since 1984.


Ankara has denied hitting civilians in its military operations, but hospitals in Afrin say they are receiving civilian casualties on a daily basis. — Agencies


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