Turkish jets hit 108 Kurdish targets in Afrin, land forces’ involvement imminent

Turkish airstrikes struck 108 targets belonging to Kurdish militants, the army said in a statement on Saturday, hours after it launched an operation against a Kurdish militia  group in Syria’s Afrin province as Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said that Turkish land forces might be involved in the operation on Sunday.

By evening, the Turkish military announced it stroke almost all of the targets it had determined in the area, before it announced that 72 fighters jets that took part in the operation returned to their bases. “Out of 113 designated targets of the Democratic Union Party, Kurdish Syrian terrorist group, 108 have been destroyed as of 18:30. All the killed and wounded people, who have been sent to hospitals, are members of terrorist groups,” the statement of the Turkish General Staff read.

As the Turkish Air Forces also reportedly hit the Menagh Military Airbase in northwestern Syria, which the US used for supplying weapons to YPG, PYD/PKK group’s harassing fire has reportedly hit two houses in Turkey’s southern border province of Kilis.

YPG has also confirmed that at least 100 points were targeted “including civilian areas,” positions of YPG-YPJ and Revolutionary Forces by Turkish military. YPG has claimed Turkish military continues to target civilian areas with 72 fighter jets.  “Afrin city center, Rubar IDP camp and some of civil institutions in Afrin were also targeted,” said YPG and said that 1 YPG and 2 YPJ militants and 6 civilians have been killed during these attacks. YPG has also claimed that at least 13 civilians were injured, 3 of them seriously.

PM YILDIRIM: LAND FORCE UNITS TO INVOLVE ON SUNDAY

“The land force units will be involved tomorrow (Sunday) depending on the developments,” PM Yıldırım said in a televised press briefing together with government’s informal ally Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli.

In his Twitter post, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag asserted the operation just targeted “the terrorist groups and the terrorists as well as their barracks, shelters, positions, weapons, vehicles, and equipment. “Civilians are never a target. Every kind of planning has been done to avoid any damage to civilians,” said Bozdağ.

Turkish Parliament’s Speaker İsmail Kahraman has also hailed the launch of military operation in Syria’s Afrin region, according to a statement released by his office. Kahraman hoped the “The Operation Olive Branch,” will conclude successfully, the statement said and added that “Terrorist groups and terrorists are the only target of the operation, which was launched as a right of self-defense of our state and is in compliance with the international law.”

Dubbing the new campaign “The Operation Olive Branch,” the Turkish military said it began hitting cross-border targets at 5 p.m. local time (1400 GMT) and aimed at the YPG and also the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL).

Following the official statements, around 10 p.m. local time, private television channel CNNTürk showed three Turkish tanks passing through the Öncüpınar border gate to Syria on trucks during a live broadcast. The Turkish Red Crescent, meanwhile, has built up a tent camp in Azez in the east of Afrin as a caution to a possible human flow.

On the other hand, special prayer sessions will be held in 90,000 mosques across Turkey for the success of Turkish military operation in Afrin region, according to the country’s top religious body. In a statement on Saturday, the Turkey’s controversial Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) has stated the prayer sessions will be performed after the Isha prayer (night prayer) on Saturday and the Fajr prayer (early morning prayer) on Sunday.

Ali Erbas, head of the Diyanet, sent a message to all religious officials across the country to hold the special prayers for the victory of Turkish military, the statement read.

YPG AND OUTLAWED PKK VOW TO RESIST IN AFRIN

The YPG said that Saturday’s Turkish air strikes on Syria’s Afrin region left it with no choice but to fight back, claiming Turkish military had hit civilian neighbourhoods. “We will defeat this aggression, like we have defeated other such assaults against our villages and cities,” the YPG, which has battled ISIL with US backing, said. The YPG urged men and women in north Syria to join its ranks to protect Afrin.

In an interview with pro-Kurdish Sterk TV, outlawed PKK’s Executive Committee Member Murat Karayılan said that an attack against Afrin will be an attack against Kurdish people and threatened that PKK won’t remain silent and will intervene if Turkey attacks Afrin. “We know this state very well because we are fighting with it for the past 35 years. Turkish state is not capable of entering Afrin. But it will fight. Because Turkish state sees the fact that it will lose all if it doesn’t fight” he claimed.

Meanwhile, on the diplomatic front Turkish Foreign Ministry has summoned the top diplomats of Russia, Iran and the US in Ankara to inform them about the ongoing military operation  as it readies to call on the ambassadors of the remaining three permanent members of the UN Security Council. Ambassadors of Britain, France and China will be summoned as Deputy Undersecretay of Foreign Ministry Kaan Esener holds the talks.

The US Defense Department has also said on Saturday that the US-led coalition was not involved in any operation in Afrin, adding its focus was still on the fight against the ISIL. “We understand Turkey’s security concerns regarding the PKK, which is recognized as a foreign terrorist organization by the US,” Pentagon spokesman Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway said, calling on all parties to stop increasing the tension in the region.

Moreover, Russian forces in Afrin have been moved to Tel Rifat for their safety in the wake of Turkey’s operation in the area, Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

Turkey has also notified the Syrian regime on Afrin operation through letters, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşğlu said on Saturday in a televised interview. Turkey had to reach out Syria, a UN member, even if through letters, Çavuşoğlu said in another interview with broadcaster NTV on the same day.

AA reported that Turkish Foreign Ministry on Saturday sent a note to Syria’s Consulate in İstanbul about military operation in Afrin region. Turkey’s Permanent Mission to the UN in New York has also written a letter to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and UN Security Council president, informing them about “the operation’s objectives and legal bases.”

However, “The Syrian Arab Republic decisively condemns Turkish aggression against the town of Afrin, which is an inseparable part of Syria,” a statement released by the Syrian regime said, as quoted by the SANA news agency.

As diplomatic channels have had a full plate following the announcement of the military operation deemed “Olive Branch” by the Turksh army, a Turkish foreign ministry official on Saturday said Çavuşoğlu held talks with US counterpart Rex Tillerson in the wake of the announcement of the air strikes at Washington’s request, AFP reported.

Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu has also said on Saturday that Turkey’s military operation targeting Afrin will not affect the Syrian conference scheduled to be held later this month in Sochi.Ankara repeatedly said the YPG should not be allowed to join the Sochi conference and the group will net be invited to the gathering, he said, responding a question about an Iranian statement that the military offensive could affect the planned meeting n January 29-30

Any ground operation in Syria may affect the Syrian National Dialogue Congress, due in Sochi “in a positive or negative manner,” Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari told reporters in a comment on Turkey’s operation in Syria’s Afrin. “We hope the guarantor countries will take action to avoid this,” he said

“Russia, Iran and Turkey have agreed lists of participants in the Syrian National Dialogue Congress, the final formalities may take a couple more days,” said the Russian President’s Special Representative for the Syrian settlement Alexander Lavrentyev after consultations with Iran and Turkey, TASS News Agency reported. “The key question we have discussed is the Syrian National Dialogue Congress,” he said. “My opinion is the meeting was successful. We shall face work to finalize everything, which may take a day or two maximum.”

Moscow is interested in the UN Special Envoy on Syria Staffan de Mistura’s participation in the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi, Lavrentyev said and added that “We have been working on it.”  “The situation on the ground, on the battlefield in some Syrian regions remains rather tense, however, on the whole, it should on no account have any impact on results of the Congress,” said Lavrentyev.

HDP AND INT’L HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS REACT TO ATTACK

On Saturday, Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has strongly responded to Turkey’s airstrike on Afrin, calling the attack an “invasion attempt.”

HDP Co-chair Serpil Kemalbay has made a statement and said that “It has always been like this in the history of sovereign rules. Whenever there happens a war and massacre, symbols referred to with peace are used. Turkey is openly attempting an invasion as if there was an attack from Afrin against Turkey. They are telling a lie to the peoples of Turkey by saying that ‘there is a terrorist attack.’ Not even a single pebble stone has been thrown into Turkey from Afrin.”

Kemalbay added that “This attack targets the bread of peoples. Children of the poor will be dragged into this war. This is an attack that is carried out in order to destroy the Kurdish people’s demand for freedom. This invasion attempt by the Erdoğan regime is unacceptable.”

HDP spokesperson Ayhan Bilgen has  tweeted on Saturday that “Despite the Afrin operation named ‘Olive Branch’ this is also very similar to Saddam’s attack on civilian Kurds in Halabja which was named ‘Enfal’ from holy book Quran. This operation also targets civilians.”

Also on Saturday, a group international intellectuals and human rights activists, including Noam Chomsky, Michael Hardt and Debbi Bookchin, launched a petition calling upon world powers to act against Turkey’s military action targeting Afrin.

“We, the undersigned academics and human rights activists, insist that the leaders of Russia, Iran, and the US ensure that the sovereignty of Syrian borders is not breached by Turkey and that the people of Afrin in Syria, be allowed to live in peace,” said the petition and call on US officials and the international community “to guarantee Afrin’s stability and security and prevent further Turkish aggression from within Syria and across the Syrian border.”

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