Battle for Afrin: Turkish forces' advance raises fears of 'new Ghouta'

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Beirut: Residents of the Syrian city of Afrin are bracing for an onslaught from Turkish troops and allied rebels, threatening a fresh humanitarian crisis in the war-torn country. Turkey was poised to enter the Kurdish-majority city on Monday after advances in recent weeks took them close to its limits.

There were fears for the one million civilians, thousands of whom have been displaced by fighting in villages and other cantons closer to Syria's border with Turkey.

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Syria's conflict in Ghouta continues to escalate

The Syrian Government's effort to recapture the Damascus suburb of Ghouta has been become one of the bloodiest moments in the country’s lengthy war.

Convoys of activists were reportedly leaving for Afrin from the cities of Cizre in southern Turkey and Kobani in northern Syria in an effort to protect the city by volunteering to put themselves between rebel fighters and the Turks and the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG).

Turkey launched "Operation Olive Branch" on January 20 against the YPG, which controls the Afrin region in north-west Syria and which Ankara regards as a terrorist group.

On Monday a government spokesman said it would will soon clear the town of militants.

"We have cleared an area of 1102 kilometre square from terrorists in Afrin. We will soon reach the town centre and clear it as well," spokesman Bekir Bozdag told reporters.


More than 200 civilians and 370 YPG fighters have been killed so far, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). Some 340 Syrian rebels have also been killed, as well as 42 Turkish soldiers.

Pro-Kurdish groups held protests in Britain, Germany and other European nations on Sunday, calling on the international community to act. Jamie Janson, a volunteer fighting with the YPG in Afrin, said: "If the world stands by and continues to do nothing, the devastation you are seeing in Eastern Ghouta today will be Afrin city tomorrow."

"For seven weeks now, Afrin has been bombed and shelled without mercy. People don't even wake up when windows rattle from early-morning bomb blasts any more." He is one of three Britons among dozens of international volunteers fighters in Afrin, including Huang Lei from Manchester and Dan Smith, a combat medic.

The latest moves will aggravate tensions between Turkey and the US, which has urged Ankara to halt its offensive against its Kurdish partner forces, their most reliable ally in the fight against Islamic State.

A Western diplomat said Turkey had told its NATO allies that they would stop before the city, planning only to secure the border. "We thought the Afrin offensive was more about Turkey trying to get the US's attention rather that any serious attempt to take territory in Syria," he said.

The SOHR, which tracks death tolls using a network of contacts inside Syria, published figures new showingt that 511,000 people had been killed in the war since 2011.

About 85 per cent of the dead were civilians killed by the forces of the Syrian government and its Russian patron. The onslaught continued on Monday in Eastern Ghouta, where some 1100 have been killed in three weeks.

US Ambassador to United Nations Nikki Haley warned that Washington "remains prepared to act if we must," if the UN Security Council failed to act on Syria.

Telegraph, London