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Turkish jets resume airstrikes over Syrian Kurdish enclave

February 9, 2018
Associated Press

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish jets have resumed airstrikes in the Syrian Kurdish-run enclave of Afrin after a brief lull, killing and wounding several people, the military and media reports said Friday.

The state-run Anadolu Agency said F-16 jets resumed their aerial bombing campaign late Thursday, striking the northwestern enclave's Mount Bafilun, the villages of Sheik Huruz and Kefer Jenne and the regions of Sheran, Jinderes and Raju, among other targets.

Turkey's military issued a brief statement Friday saying its jets bombed a total of 19 targets, including shelters, ammunition depots and gun positions belonging to "terror" organizations. All planes returned to base safely, the statement added.

Separately, the Turkish chief of military staff, Gen. Hulusi Akar, and other commanders surveyed the operation from an airborne warning and control plane, the military said.

Unconfirmed Turkish media reports had said that Turkey halted flights after Russia closed the airspace over Afrin after militants shot down a Russian Su-25 fighter jet in northern Idlib province on Feb. 3. Russia effectively controls the skies over the region.

Anadolu and the private Dogan news agency later reported that Turkish troops and Turkey-backed opposition fighters cleared five villages of Kurdish fighters in the Afrin region.

Turkey launched an offensive into the enclave three weeks ago to rout Syrian Kurdish fighters whom Ankara considers to be a security threat because of their links to outlawed rebels in Turkey.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the airstrikes targeted the town of Afrin and its outskirts killing two people and wounding others.

The civil administration council in Afrin said in a statement read to reporters in the town on Friday that since Turkey began its attacks, 120 people have been killed including 26 children and 17 women. It added that 60,000 people have fled their homes leading to a humanitarian crisis, and called on international aid organizations to help people in Afrin.

The main Kurdish militia in northern Syria known as the People's Protection Units, or YPG, said in a statement that the town of Afrin and nearby villages have been subjected to airstrikes since late Thursday, adding that at least three people were wounded.

The YPG said that the Turkish army also targeted a cattle slaughterhouse on the outskirts of Afrin, causing heavy damage to the building and killing hundreds of sheep.

To the west, the Syrian army and its allies captured 17 villages from insurgents in a region where the provinces of Aleppo, Idlib and Hama meet, the government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media reported.

Syrian government forces and their allies launched a push into Idlib seven weeks ago, inching closer to a key highway that connects Syria's two largest cities, Damascus and Aleppo.

The U.N. says more than 270,000 people have been displaced in Idlib because of the government onslaught since Dec. 15.

The Observatory said government forces opened a corridor for IS fighters to leave areas in Hama and Aleppo provinces where the extremists were under siege to reach the rebel-held Idlib province.

Also Friday, Save the Children said in a report that tens of thousands of children are in immediate danger in the besieged eastern suburbs of the capital Damascus, also known as eastern Ghouta, which has been subjected to intense shelling and airstrikes that left more than 200 dead over the past five days.

The report said that since the start of the year, at least 11 children who attended Save the Children-supported schools, as well as one of the teachers, have been killed. It added that the group's partners on the ground say 45 schools in eastern Ghouta have been attacked since the start of 2018, with 11 completely destroyed.

More than 4,000 families are now sheltering in underground basements and bunkers, according to Save the Children partners who operate in the besieged enclave on the outskirts of Damascus, the group said.

"Children in eastern Ghouta are being starved, bombed and trapped," said Sonia Khush, Save the Children's Syria Response Director. "Schools are supposed to be safe places for children, protected under international law, yet they are being attacked every single day."

"The siege means there is nowhere for them to escape. There must be an immediate halt to the fighting and an end to the siege," she said.


Mroue reported from Beirut.



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