Turkish soldiers clear ‘terrorists’ from strategic village in Kurdish-held area
Turkey’s PM said the country’s soldiers pushed the ‘terrorists’ back from its border.
Turkish troops have cleared “terrorists” from a strategic village in the Kurdish-held enclave in north-western Syria, Turkey’s prime minister has said.
Mr Yildirim said Turkish soldiers captured Rajo in Afrin district and pushed the “terrorists” back from the border with Turkey, tightening its grip on Kurdish militia in the sixth week of its offensive on the area.
Mr Yildirim told a rally the Kurdish Afrin district was surrounded by the military, special police and paramilitary forces, as well as allied Syrian opposition fighters.
“We have cleared all areas near our borders of terror nests,” he said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the Syrian conflict, said fierce clashes were still ongoing in Rajo, in north-west Afrin.
If confirmed, Rajo would be the largest centre in Afrin to be captured since the Turkish offensive began on January 20.
Turkish borders run along Afrin’s western and northern borders. A Syrian territory controlled by Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters lies to the east. Syrian government forces control territory in the south.
Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters have been attacking Afrin from the north, west and east, and have formed a crescent around the district.
Turkey said it wants to oust the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, from Afrin, considering the group a terrorist organisation, an extension of a Kurdish insurgency within its own borders.
Turkey said 41 of its soldiers have been killed since the operation began.
The offensive has heightened tensions between Turkey and its Nato ally, the US, which backs the YPG fighting against Islamic State militants in eastern Syria.
The US has no troops in Afrin, but said it fears the Turkish offensive could distract from the fight against IS in the east.
Complicating matters, fighters loyal to Syria’s government entered Afrin late last month to support the Syrian Kurdish militia, raising the spectre of a possible confrontation between Turkish and pro-government Syrian troops.
The government continued its offensive against eastern Ghouta, a rebel-held region near the Syrian capital Damascus, despite a Russian-ordered five-hour humanitarian pause. A UN 30-day ceasefire has failed to take hold.
Syrian activists and rescuers said at least six civilians were killed in the ongoing bombing on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Syrian State TV said on Saturday that two children escaped from the region under gunfire from the rebels, who control eastern Ghouta.
Syrian government and Russian officials accuse the rebels of firing at a corridor set up for evacuation, preventing civilians from leaving.
The corridor, manned by Russia military police and Syrian troops, has been set to open for five hours daily since Tuesday. An elderly Pakistani couple managed to leave after negotiations.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Syrian Civil Defence said six civilians were killed on Saturday in government bombings in eastern Ghouta.