Erdogan, Putin discuss Afrin operation, Idlib on phone

Free Syrian Army fighters who are working with Turkey against the YPG near Afrin on 19 February                  REUTERS  Khalil Ashawi

The Syrian Kurdish YPG militia denied on Monday agreeing a deal with Damascus for the Syrian army to enter the Afrin region to help repel a Turkish offensive.

On Jan. 20, the Turkish Armed Forces, together with the Free Syrian Army, launched the Operation Olive Branch in Afrin, Syria.

While President Bashar al-Assad's government and the YPG espouse different visions for Syria's future and their forces have clashed at times, they have mostly avoided direct conflict.

Erdogan, for his part, briefed Rouhani on the presence of Turkish military forces in Syria's Afrin and said his country hopes that all districts in Syria would be cleared from terrorists.

He said Turkey took the utmost care to protect civilians in the military operation, while the YPG was using civilians as "human shields" in areas under its control. Ankara considers the YPG to be a terrorist organization tied to Kurdish rebels fighting a three-decade insurgency in Turkey.

Jana Jabbour, a political science professor at Sciences Po university in Paris, said the Turks were "struggling to move forward" because of the "organisation of the Kurdish YPG forces and their combativeness".

The operation, dubbed "Olive Branch", has seen Turkey deploy ground troops and pound the Afrin region with air strikes and artillery fire. The YPG has always been supported by the United States in the fight against the so-called Islamic State group and were responsible for seizing their self-proclaimed capital, Raqqa.

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"The Turkish regime has been waging a barbaric aggression on Afrin area for nearly a month, using various types of weapons and shells including the internationally-prohibited chlorine gas, killing and injuring hundreds of civilians and destroying infrastructure, properties, and historical landmarks", SANA alleged.

Turkish and Russian presidents on Monday discussed Turkey's ongoing operation in northwest Syria and the establishment of new observation points in Idlib, Turkish presidential sources said, according to Anadolu Agency.

The Turkish officials detailed the call on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations. "It was stopped", Erdogan told reporters following a speech in parliament.

The targeted suburbs, known as eastern Ghouta, have been subjected to weeks-long bombardment that has killed and wounded hundreds of people.

The Syrian Civil Defense, volunteer first responders known as the White Helmets, said 30 people were killed in eastern Ghouta.

Syrian state TV reported that rebels, in return, fired dozens of mortar rounds and rockets at Damascus, wounding eight people.

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