Syrian rebels back by Turkey capture Kurdish enclave

Turkey Seizes Afrin From Kurds amid Fears of 'Ethnic Cleansing'

Turkey Seizes Afrin From Kurds amid Fears of 'Ethnic Cleansing'

Turkey declared full control of the strategic Kurdish stronghold Afrin in northern Syria on Sunday, after a two-month military campaign to oust USA -backed Kurdish fighters from its borders.

The statue was of the blacksmith Kawa, a central figure in a Kurdish legend about the new year celebration of Nawroz.

A Whatsapp group run by the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces said Turkish and Syrian rebel troops tore down a statue in Afrin, in what it called a "blatant violation of Kurdish people's culture and history".

Earlier, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that "units of the Free Syrian Army. took control of the centre of Afrin this morning".

At least 46 Turkish soldiers were killed since Operation Olive Branch began on 20 January.

Analysts said if the capture of Afrin city is the main target of the Turkish incursion, there are more risks ahead for the military.

It has threatened to extend the Afrin offensive to another Kurdish-controlled region further east where US forces are stationed alongside the YPG, Washington's ally against Islamic State in Syria.

An official from the local Kurdish authority raised the prospect of a guerrilla campaign against Turkey, saying Kurdish forces were still present across the Afrin region and would "strike the positions of the Turkish enemy and its mercenaries at every opportunity".

On Sunday, the Turkish flag was flying in Afrin after the Turkish troops and their Syrian allies drove the Kurdish militia out. Forty six Turkish soldiers have been killed since then.

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The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said almost 200,000 people fled the Afrin region in recent days amid heavy air strikes, entering Syrian government-held territory nearby.

"Maybe it will be cleared by the end of the day - it is empty of [YPG] fighters, they cleared out", he said. "There would be resistance pockets in the city and there are undoubtedly many improvised explosive devices and booby traps lying around", said security expert Abdullah Agar on NTV news channel. Erdogan threatened to move to Manbij, a Kurdish-run town to the east where USA troops have also maintained a presence after it was cleared of Islamic State militants in 2016.

Government spokesman Bekir Bozdag said the military campaign would continue to secure areas around Afrin and make sure food and medicine were available.

"Our war against the Turkish occupation. has entered a new phase: a switch from direct confrontation to hit-and-run attacks", it said.

On Sunday, Kurdish officials said they had evacuated Afrin of civilians. "Our job is not done yet, we have a lot more work".

Ankara said the demand did not apply to Afrin, but its operation has faced criticism in the West. Erdogan has said the people of Afrin will return.

The army posted a video on social media showing a soldier holding a Turkish flag and a man waving the Syrian opposition flag on the balcony of the district parliament building with a tank stationed on the street.

The apparent victory for Turkey on Sunday was a stunning blow to the YPG, which has sought to consolidate control over Kurdish areas of Syria in the hopes of forging an autonomous state.

Turkey also fears the establishment of a Kurdish self-ruled zone in Syria that could inspire its own Kurdish minority to press for greater autonomy.

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