Turkish army announces encirclement of Syria's Afrin city

Turkish army announces encirclement of Syria's Afrin city

The Turkish military says it has surrounded the northern Syrian city of Afrin, the focus of Ankara's cross-border operation against a Kurdish militia.

The Turkish military said the siege of Afrin, the main town in the enclave of the same name, began Monday after the military took control of "critical areas".

This photo released February 21, 2018 by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows a convoy of militiamen loyal to the Syrian government on their way to aid the Kurds against Turkish forces, in the northern city of Afrin, Syria.

Thousands of people had started to flee Afrin on Monday as the Turkish troops got closer to the town, heading toward nearby government-controlled areas.

The operation is being carried out under the framework of Turkey's rights based on worldwide law, UN Security Council resolutions, its self-defence rights under the UN charter, and respect for Syria's territorial integrity, it said.

The city is home to around 350,000 people, it said.

On January 20, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch to clear the PKK-affiliated YPG and Daesh terrorists from Afrin, northwestern Syria.

Turkey regards YPG as a terror group and a branch of militants in Turkey who have waged an insurgency for decades.

Since it was launched on Feb 18, pro-regime forces have retaken almost 60 per cent of the enclave, whittling down rebel territory to three isolated pockets.

Syrian government forces have split eastern Ghouta in two amid rapid weekend advances, dealing a major setback to the rebels and threatening to exacerbate an already dire humanitarian situation at the doorstep of Damascus.

Military Media said buses had transported around 300 fighters from the Ajnad al-Sham group and their families from al-Qadam to Idlib province, a rebel-held area in the north, fulfilling a prior agreement between the army and the militants.

Medical evacuations of sick and wounded patients from Eastern Ghouta began on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

Speaking on Saturday, Erdogan said after taking Afrin, Turkey's offensive would expand to key border towns controlled by YPG right up to the Iraqi frontier. The Syrian regime's campaign to crush a popular uprising in 2011 plunged the country into civil war.

Thanks in large part to Russian military and diplomatic support, Assad's forces have managed to retake most of the territory seized by opposition fighters during the conflict. Rebels there have so far rejected a similar evacuation offer.

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