Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch started, army takes control of 11 PYD/PKK positions

Turkish Armed Forces surround Afrin from northern, northwestern and western sides

Turkish Armed Forces on Sunday took control of 11 PYD/PKK positions and created safe zones during Operation Olive Branch in Syria’s northwestern Afrin region.

According to an Anadolu Agency correspondent on the field, Turkish army backed by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) captured Afrin’s Shankal, Qorne, Bali, Adah Manli villages and Kita, Kordo and Bibno rural areas along with four other hills.

In the first day of the ground operation, which started in the early hours of Sunday, Turkish army surrounded Afrin from northern, northwestern and western sides.

To address the people of Afrin, the FSA fighters released a video on the social media in which they can be heard saying: “You are our friends and family. We are here to end the persecution. [PYD/PKK] is our mutual enemy.”

The Turkish Army and the FSA have not encountered any resistance at first and the opposition forces caught some terrorists alive in a few villages of Afrin’s Rajo town.

Turkish jets and ground forces hit several positions of PYD/PKK in Afrin including Malikiyah in Tal Rifaat, east of Afrin.

The terrorist groups, meanwhile, continued targeting civilians and attacked Jibrin village in Azaz district, killing two civilians.

The FSA fighters in Azaz district were preparing for the operation.

The ground forces are expected to advance towards Afrin from different directions.

Terrorist attacks continue

On Sunday, a Syrian national and about 50 people were injured in cross-border rocket attacks in southern Turkey, according to governor of Hatay.

Buildings and vehicles were damaged in the attack.

Turkey’s southeastern province of Kilis was also hit by four rockets launched from Afrin.

The rockets which were launched by PYD/PKK terrorist members in Afrin, hit four houses in central Kilis’ Ekrem Cetin and Baris neighborhoods.

Seven people, including two Syrian nationals, were injured in the attack.

The attack, which also damaged buildings and vehicles, was responded by Turkish artillery units stationed in the region.

Kilis was first hit by four rockets on early Sunday, which struck a neighborhood in city center and slightly injured one Turkish citizen.

The attacks came after Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch to remove PYD/PKK and Daesh terrorists from Afrin.

According to Turkish General Staff, the operation aims to establish security and stability along Turkish borders and the region as well as to protect the Syrian people from the oppression and cruelty of terrorists.

Turkey’s army and rebel allies battled US-backed Kurdish militia in Syria’s Afrin province on Sunday, stepping up a two-day-old campaign against YPG fighters that has opened a new front in Syria’s civil war.

Amid US calls for restraint, Turkish artillery pounded YPG positions while rockets fired from inside Syria slammed into two Turkish border towns, wounding dozens, according to the local governor’s office and a witness.

Turkey began its push to clear YPG fighters from the northwestern enclave of Syria and create a buffer zone on Saturday when it launched artillery and air strikes against their positions in Afrin in what it called “Operation Olive Branch”. Turkish forces moved into the town of Afrin at 11am local time on Sunday, penetrating 5km into Syria, NTV television reported.

The move pits Turkey against a US-backed force that played a crucial role in defeating the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria. Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist group linked to Kurdish separatists fighting government forces at home, Bloomberg reported. Turkish military action also complicates Russian efforts to end the seven-year conflict in favour of President Bashar al-Assad.

Even as Washington expressed concern about the situation, Turkey forged ahead. “Our jets took off and started bombing. And now the ground operation is underway. Now we see how the YPG … are fleeing in Afrin,” President Tayyip Erdogan said.

Erdogan said Turkey plans to finish the operation quickly, as areas bordering Afrin were declared off-limits until 3 February, Bloomberg said. The plan is to create a buffer zone extending 30km into Syria, according to NTV. “We will chase them. God willing, we will complete this operation very quickly,” Erdogan added.

Intense Turkish artillery fire and air strikes continued to hit some villages, the YPG said, while fierce battles raged to the north and west of Afrin against Turkish forces and their rebel allies, said Birusk Hasaka, a YPG spokesman in Afrin.

Turkey, which is backing the Free Syrian Army rebel factions in northern Syria, wants to create a 30km “safe zone” in the region, broadcaster HaberTurk quoted the prime minister, Binali Yildirim, as saying.

The operation was being carried out under the framework of Turkey’s rights based on international law, UN Security Council’s decisions, self-defense rights under the UN charter and respect to Syria’s territorial integrity, it said.

The military also said the “utmost importance” was being given to not harm any civilian.

Afrin has been a major hideout for the PYD/PKK since July 2012 when the Assad regime in Syria left the city to the terror group without putting up a fight.