Turkey Says Reports of Toxic Gas in Afrin Offensive "Groundless"

Turkey began its direct intervention in northern Syria in August 2016, backing Syrian rebel groups in a military offensive to push Islamic State from its border and to stop the YPG linking Afrin to the other areas it controls further east. The YPG is part of the US -backed Syrian Democratic Forces that has played a critical role in defeating Islamic State in several parts of Syria.

This suggested the Syrian government and Kurdish fighters - a militia known as YPG militia - have struck a deal under which the government forces would help repel an ongoing Turkish offensive on the enclave.

Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, responded angrily to reports of a deal between the Syrian government and the Kurdish YPG forces in the enclave of Afrin, where Turkey is conducting a military operation. "The worldwide community continues to address the Syrian leadership as sovereign and we call on this authority to protect its territory", said Mahmoud.

Turkey is conducting an air and ground offensive against People's Protection Units (YPG) militants in the Afrin district of northern Syria.

Neither the Syrian military nor Syrian Kurdish officials were immediately available for comment yesterday.

The President of the Islamic Republic of Iran also stressed the need to respect territorial integrity of Syria and said: "Security and stability must return to Syria as soon as possible to let all Syrian refugees go back to their country".

The warning sets up a potential clash between Turkish troops and Syrian government forces backed by Russian Federation and Iran, whose deployment would be a first step toward restoring Assad's presence along the border with Turkey.

"This is its duty", he said.

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.

All dealings between the Syrian government and the Kurds, which each hold more territory than any other side in Syria, are closely watched as they could prove pivotal for the future course of the war.

Turkish officials say the president has held a telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart during which the two reaffirmed their determination to cooperate in the fight against "terrorism" in Syria.

"Popular forces will arrive in Afrin within a few hours to support its people's stand against the Turkish regime's attack on the area and its people", state news agency SANA said, citing its correspondent in Aleppo.

The White House said it was aware of the reports but could not confirm them.

Syria is sending forces to come to the aid of a Kurdish militia after Turkey and its allies made gains against them.

Assad's troops have had no presence in Afrin since they pulled out of most of northern Syria in 2012 as nationwide protests against Assad transformed into a civil war.

  • Rogelio Becker