Turkey says its forces take control of Syrian town of Afrin


Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Sunday that Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel fighter allies have seized control of the town center of Afrin from Kurdish YPG fighters.

The evacuation is ongoing and is the latest in a series of mass evacuations that began in Eastern Ghouta on Thursday, Xinhua news agency reported.

Syrian state-run al-Ikhbariyah TV aired live footage showing hundreds of men, women and children carrying their belongings and marching into the town of Hamouria that was recently captured by Syrian troops.

Ali Imceddemi, a 60-year-old baker, said the YPG/PKK did not allow civilians to leave the town for days, using them as human shields. "In the centre of Afrin, symbols of trust and stability are waving instead of rags of terrorists", he added, referring to Turkish and Free Syrian Army flags that had been raised in the town centre.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday visited Syrian soldiers who appear close to defeating the last major opposition foothold near Damascus and met some of the many thousands of people uprooted during the government offensive.

Turkey started a military campaign in Afrin district in northwestern Syria on January 20 to drive out Kurdish militants there, who are seen by Ankara as terrorists.

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Civilians in northwestern Syria's Afrin said Sunday that YPG/PKK terrorists had fled the town center several days before Turkey-backed troops took its control.

The YPG has been a key US ally in the fight against the Islamic State group, and seized large areas across northern and eastern Syria from the extremists with the help of coalition airstrikes. "Some sleep in cars or on the roadside", said the person, asking not to be named, adding that rent prices in the area had soared. The statement said this was the "first blatant violation of Kurdish people's culture and history since the takeover of Afrin".

Meanwhile, U.S. and Kurdish officials said Turkey's fight with the YPG has distracted from fighting IS.

Turkey says it will consider a "legitimate target" any group that comes to the aid of Kurdish militia in Afrin.

A single escape route remains open to the south to territory still held by the YPG or controlled by the Damascus government. The Turkish military denied the allegations. Turkey's government spokesman Bekir Bozdag said the military campaign would continue to secure areas around Afrin and make sure food and medicine were available.