Rockets kill 1, injure 46 in southern Turkey as Turkish ground forces advance in Syria

A Syrian national was killed and 46 civilians, including 16 Syrians, were injured in cross-border attacks by PYD/PKK terror group in southern Turkey, provincial governor said on Sunday.

According to a report by state-run Anadolu news agency, Hatay Governor Erdal Ata said that between 3-4 p.m. local time six explosions were reported and at 6.40 p.m. another five explosions took place in Reyhanlı district of Hatay province. Nine of these incidents happened inside the residential area, while two others occurred outside.

“Forty-seven people were wounded in the explosions. 30 of them are Turks, 17 of them are Syrians. Unfortunately, later, one of our Syrian guests lost his life,” the governor said. He said four injured were in critical condition and under medical treatment. “Forty-two injured are discharged after outpatient treatment.”

The governor also said a total of 15 vehicles, four houses and 10 workplaces were damaged in the blasts.  Ata said that the attacks are believed to be carried out by PYD/PKK terrorists from Afrin, casting doubt on the nature of ammo fired.  “We think that it is likely a rocket but it may be missile, too. Our crime scene investigation teams are carrying out their work in the area,” Ata said, adding that the clear results would be given when the works are completed.

Southeastern province of Kilis was also hit by four rockets launched from Afrin on Sunday evening. According to initial reports, the rockets which were launched by PYD/PKK terrorist members in Afrin, hit four houses in central Kilis’ Ekrem Çetin and Barış neighborhoods. Seven people, including two Syrian nationals, who were injured in the attack were referred to the state hospital in Kilis, according to the city’s governor Mehmet Tekinarslan. The attack 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.

Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is an umbrella organisation for Kurdish armed groups in Syria, has claimed that “Turkish military has attacked Reyhanlı district itself only to legitimate the ongoing massacre and blames our forces for this.” The statement has continued to say that “We once again stress that we have nothing to do in shelling civilian settlements. We never target the territory outside of our borders.”

According to a report by pro-Kurdish Fırat news agency (ANF) on Sunday that Turkish fighters’ bombardment have massacred nearly 20 civilians, most of them children, in first two days of operations. Kurdish Red Crescent has also stated that the bodies of 4 more people were reached during search efforts in wreckage caused by Turkish airstrikes in the village of Cilber in Afrin’s Sherawa district. Death toll in the village has thus risen to 7 and most of these are reported to be from the same family.

The civilians killed in Cilbir village are reportedly members of the same family who migrated from Idlib to Afrin because of the war. It was reported that the family that settled in Cilbir village some 4 months ago and lived on poultry farming. Names and ages of the civilians killed are Wael El Huseyn (1), Salameh Huseyn (6), Musab El Huseyn (6), Fatallah El Huseyn (8), Hadeel El Huseyn (10), Refeh El Huseyn El Homer (33). Bodies of Ehmed El Huseyn (17), Samak El Huseyn (16) are reportedly still trapped in wreckage and 5 people with injuries have been taken under treatment at Avrin Hospital.

On the other hand, 12 people, 6 of them children, have suffered injuries as a result of Turkish aerial bombardments. The civilians with injuries are reported to be in critical conditions.

Turkish ground forces have started to move into Syria’s Afrin with Free Syrian Army on Sunday. Turkish Armed Forces backed by armoured vehicles, special forces and infantry regiments advanced 5 kilometers (3 miles) inside Afrin as part of Operation Olive Branch. During the movement, no major clashes took place. Turkish warplanes and artillery have hit 153 PYD/PKK and Daesh targets in Syria’s Afrin, so far, the Turkish General Staff said earlier on Sunday.

Turkish jets have also destroyed 45 more targets of PYD/PKK as part of Operation Olive Branch in Syria’s Afrin region on Sunday, Turkish General Staff said in a statement. The statement said destroyed targets included shelters, ammunition depots and weapon emplacements belonging to the terrorist group. A total of 32 jets which participated in the operation returned to their bases safely, it added.

Turkish Armed Forces also stated later on Sunday that it took control of 11 PYD/PKK positions and created safe zones during Operation Olive Branch in Afrin region. According to a report by state-run Anadolu news agency, 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. The Turkish Army and the FSA have not encountered any resistance at first and the opposition forces caught some Kurdish militants alive in a few villages of Afrin’s Rajo town.

It was also reported that Turkish jets and ground forces hit several positions of PYD/PKK in Afrin including Malikiyah in Tal Rifaat, east of Afrin. The ground forces are expected to advance towards Afrin from different directions.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar has visited Hatay province to inspect troops, which are taking part in ongoing Operation Olive Branch in Syria’s Afrin. According to a statement by Turkish General Staff, Akar was accompanied by Commander of the Turkish Land Forces Gen. Yaşar Güler, Commander of the Turkish Navy Forces Adm. Adnan Özbal and Turkish Air Forces Commander Gen, Hasan Küçükakyüz.

Akar has also spoken to Iran’s military chief of staff Maj. Gen Mohammad Bagheri on the phone and exchanged views on cooperation against terrorist groups in Syria, according to a military official

Earlier, Turkish General Staff said in a statement that more than 150 targets of PKK/KCK/PYD-YPG in Syria’s Afrin had been destroyed at seven areas during airstrikes after the “Operation Olive Branch” was launched at 5 p.m. (GMT1400) on Saturday.

Also on Sunday, Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces have announced that they have captured the town of Shengal from PKK-linked People’s Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria, only a day after Operation Olive Branch was launched. Reports noted that fierce clashes are taking place between the FSA units and YPG militants in some towns near Afrin.

The FSA reportedly told civilians in Shengal, which is located northwest of Afrin, to stay in their homes and avoid going near military areas. The group also noted that they will protect civilians and have started advancing toward the town of Raco, located west of Afrin.

Around 25,000 FSA fighters are joining Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch in Afrin, an FSA commander said on Sunday. Major Yasser Abdul Rahim, who is also the commander of Failaq al Sham, a main FSA opposition group in the operations room of the campaign, told Reuters that the FSA fighters are aiming to expel the YPG from the town.

“We have no interest in entering the city only the military targets inside the city and the villages around it. We aim to encircle the city and ensure the militias are evicted. We won’t fight in the city as we have no problem with civilians,” he said. “The task of the FSA is first to regain sixteen Arab towns and villages occupied by the foreign militias (YPG) with the help of the Russian air force,” Abdul Rahim told Reuters in a phone interview from inside Syria.

The Arab elements in the area accuse the YPG militants of forcibly displacing Arabs from the villages in what they say is a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing.

According to a report by ANF,  YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have harshly responded to the Turkish-FSA raids and allegedly 9 members of Turkish-FSA forces have been killed in the clashes in Kırdo and Edame villages. It was reported that fierce fighting continues in the mentioned villages.

The Syrian-Kurdish YPG, supported by the United States but seen as a terrorist organization by Turkish government, claimed it had repulsed the Turkish forces and their allies after fierce clashes. Intense Turkish artillery fire and air strikes continued to hit some villages, the YPG said, and fierce battles raged to the north and west of Afrin against Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies, said Birusk Hasaka, the YPG spokesman in Afrin.

It was also reported on Sunday that Turkey’s controversial National Intelligence Organization (MİT) is playing an active role in “Operation Olive Branch” in Afrin. According to a report, the MİT is giving “real time tactical” electronic and technical intelligence to the Turkish Armed Forces carrying out the operation against groups affiliated with the outlawed PKK, according to a security official.

The MİT’s role includes the coordination and direction of Ankara-backed FSA militants involved in the operation, as well as intelligence support in the identification of targets for air strikes and post-destruction evaluation. One source said this included streaming “instant visual intelligence from downtown Afrin.”

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