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An FSA fighter
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/L. Pitarakis

Turkey captures strategic town in Syria's Afrin region

March 8, 2018

Marking a major setback for Kurdish forces, Turkey has gained control of one of Afrin's largest settlements. Human rights groups have urged parties to stop indiscriminate attacks, warning of "numerous civilian deaths."


Turkey on Thursday captured the strategic town of Jinderes in the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin in northwestern Syria, marking a major setback for Kurdish forces in the area.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of on-the-ground sources, said the town fell to Turkish forces and Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters "after heavy and sustained bombardment by Turkish aviation."

Read more: Turkey's offensive against Kurdish-held Afrin: What you need to know

According to Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency, the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) had been driven out of the town following intense clashes, which caused extensive damage to infrastructure. Jinderes is considered one of the largest settlements in the region.

In January, Turkey launched a major offensive with support from the FSA to uproot what it described as terrorist elements near its border.

The Turkish government claims the YPG, which forms an integral part of the US-led fight against the "Islamic State" (IS) militant group, is an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a terrorist-designated group that has carried out a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

Map showing positions of armed factions in northern Syria

End by May

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkish forces will target the region's largest city, which also bears the name Afrin, after taking control of Jinderes.

Syrian Arab militias allied with Kurdish forces said on Tuesday that they will redeploy roughly 1,700 fighters from active battlefronts against IS to Afrin in order to repel the Turkish offensive.

Read more: With Turkey's offensive in Afrin, Erdogan is seeking to kill two birds with one stone

Speaking at a press conference in Vienna, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his government expects the operation to end by May so that Afrin can "quickly embrace stability and civilians can return."

Turkey's offensive has raised tensions with the United States, which has supported the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces against IS. Washington has urged Turkey to restrain its military campaign in Syria, saying it risks jeopardizing the fight against extremists.

Civilian cost

Last week, human rights watchdog Amnesty International warned both sides of the growing civilian cost of the conflict in Afrin.

"The fighting in Afrin between Turkish and US-backed Kurdish forces has already caused numerous civilian deaths and is putting the lives of hundreds more at risk," said Lynn Maalouf, who heads Amnesty's Middle East research division.

Read more: Opinion: The twisted logic of the war in Syria

"Reports of shelling of villages and residential areas in cities are deeply troubling," she said. "The use of artillery and other imprecise explosive weapons in civilian areas is prohibited by international humanitarian law and all parties should cease such attacks immediately."

Turkey's offensive has left at least 93 civilians dead and injured more than 300 others, including dozens of children, according to independent monitors.

ls/sms (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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