By Associated Press - Sunday, January 21, 2018

HASSA, Turkey (AP) - The Latest on the Syrian conflict (all times local):

9:15 p.m.

Three Kurdish officials have said that Russian military officials have proposed handing over a Kurdish-ruled enclave in Syria’s northwest to the Syrian government to avert a Turkish military offensive.

Turkey launched a military operation against the Kurdish enclave Afrin in northwestern Syria controlled by the People’s Defense Units, or the YPG. Ankara considers the YPG an extension of its own insurgent group in southeastern Turkey.

Badran Ciya Kurd, an adviser to the Kurdish administration in northern Syria who meets regularly with Russian and U.S. officials, told The Associated Press Sunday that Russian officials suggested to commanders in the Kurdish militia to hand over Afrin to the Syrian government, saying that would avert the Turkish offensive.

Another senior Kurdish official told Kurdish Sterk TV that in two meetings days before the offensive, Russian officials asked the militia to cooperate by delivering Afrin to the Syrian government. A third official, Ilham Ahmed, held Moscow responsible for the Afrin attack, saying it gave the Kurds two alternatives: either hand over Afrin to the Syrian government or deal with the Turkish offensive. Afrin is encircled by government forces and Turkey-backed insurgents.

All officials said the Kurdish militia refused the offer and vowed to resist the Turkish attack.

Ciya Kurd, who met with U.S. officials last week, said the Americans said they have tried to avert an offensive by appealing to Ankara but that Turkey was determined to carry out the offensive.

It was not immediately possible to reach Russian officials.


8:40 p.m.

The United States is urging Turkey to exercise restraint and ensure that its military offensive into an enclave controlled by U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia is limited in scope and duration.

A statement by State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert on Sunday also asked Turkey to be “scrupulous to avoid civilian casualties.”

Nauert also said Washington wanted all parties to “remain focused on the central goal of defeating” the Islamic State group.

The U.S. support to Syrian Kurdish militia whom Turkey considers to be terrorists has driven a wedge between the two NATO allies. The militia group is the main U.S. ally against the IS in Syria.

Turkey’s military offensive into the northwestern enclave of Afrin launched Saturday, amid anger at a U.S. decision to form a 30,000-strong border security force for Syria.

Nauert said the United States continues to support Turkey’s security concerns.

She added, however: “The United States is very concerned about the situation in northwest Syria, especially the plight of innocent civilians who are now faced with an escalation in fighting.”


8:30 p.m.

A Kurdish news agency and an opposition Syrian war monitor say at least seven civilians have been killed in a Turkish airstrike on a village in the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin.

The Kurdish Hawar News agency says at least 7 civilians were killed in the airstrikes on the village of Jilbra in southeastern Afrin. The Syrian Observatory for Human rights said the airstrikes killed eight, including a child in the village. The Observatory said the airstrikes bring to 18 the total number of civilians killed so far since the launch of the Turkish military offensive on Afrin Saturday.

Afrin is controlled by the Kurdish militia known as the People’s Defense Units, or the YPG, which the Turkish government considers as an extension of its own insurgency in southeastern Turkey.


7:45 p.m.

Media reports say police in Turkey have broken up demonstrations in Ankara and Istanbul hours after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Kurds in Turkey not to take to the streets to protest Turkey’s military operation against a Kurdish-run enclave in Syria.

The Dogan news agency said police detained 12 demonstrators in Istanbul who were protesting the offensive. It said police used tear gas to disperse a separate protest in the capital Ankara. It did not provide further details on the Ankara protests.

Erdogan earlier warned that those who heed calls by Kurdish politicians to protest would “pay a high price.”


6:50 p.m.

Syria’s President Bashar Assad says Turkey’s “brutal aggression” against a Syrian Kurdish enclave is part and parcel of Ankara’s support of “terrorists.”

Assad’s comments came during his meeting Sunday with the visiting head of Iran’s Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, Kamal Kharrazi. Assad said Turkey has always supported “terrorists” in Syria and its attack on Afrin can’t be separated from this policy.

Syria had warned it would shoot down any Turkish fighter jets that Afrin, calling it an “aggressive act.” Turkey started bombing Afrin Saturday. There was no response from the Syrian government.


6:30 p.m.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has criticized France over its decision to call for a U.N. security council meeting over the situation in Syria, following Turkey’s offensive into a Syrian Kurdish-run enclave.

Cavusoglu told reporters in Baghdad on Sunday that Turkey expected France to stand by an ally country and not with a “terror organization.”

Cavusoglu said if France does “not act like ally… then it would be treated as a country that sides with terrorists.” Turkey considers Syrian Kurdish militia group that controls the enclave of Afrin to be terrorists because of their affiliation with Kurdish rebels fighting inside Turkey.

The minister’s comments were televised live on Turkish television.

Earlier, France in a statement urged Turkish authorities “to act with restraint in a context where the humanitarian situation is deteriorating in several regions of Syria.”


5:30 p.m.

An official says a second border town has come under rocket attack from across the Syrian border. At least one person was killed and dozens of others were wounded.

Huseyin Sanverdi, the mayor for the town of Reyhanli, told NTV television that three rockets hit his town some 10 kilometers (6.21 miles) from the Syrian Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin where Turkey’s military is conducting an offensive.

Anadolu Agency said the attack caused extensive destruction in the town, damaging buildings and cars.

Earlier, the rockets fired from Syria targeted the border town of Kilis, but there were no casualties. Turkish artillery units retaliated to the attack.


5:20 p.m.

Iran’s official IRNA news agency is reporting that the country’s Foreign Ministry has condemned the Turkish assault on the Syrian city of Afrin and expressed its concerns over this operation.

The Sunday report by IRNA quotes the ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi as saying Iran is concerned about ongoing developments in the city of Afrin and following them closely.

Ghasemi called on Turkey to end this offensive operation immediately. “The continuing crisis in Afarin may boost terrorist groups again in the northern parts of Syria.”

Ghasemi the international community, especially Syria’s neighboring countries, to continue their efforts to reach a peaceful and political settlement.

Turkey’s state-run news agency, Anadolu, said Turkey’s chief of staff, Gen. Hulusi Akar, discussed the operation with his Iranian counterpart in a telephone conversation on Sunday.


5:10 p.m.

Egypt has condemned Turkey’s military offensive in a Syrian Turkish enclave, describing it as a breach of Syria’s sovereignty.

In a Sunday statement, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry warned that the ongoing operation by Turkish troops and Syrian opposition in the Kurdish enclave of Afrin threatens political negotiations. The Turkish operation is aimed at driving a U.S.-allied Kurdish militia from the region.

The ministry described the assault as “a new violation of Syria’s sovereignty.”

Egypt has maintained security coordination with Syria during the latter’s civil war. Egypt is also at odds with Turkey accusing it of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, outlawed in Egypt, to which deposed Islamist President Mohammed Morsi belongs.


4:20 p.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned Kurds in Turkey not to take to the streets and protest the Turkish military’s operations against a Kurdish-run enclave in Syria.

Erdogan said Sunday those who heed calls by a Kurdish party for protests will “pay a high price.”

He said: “This is a national struggle. We will crush anyone who opposes our national struggle.”

Erdogan was addressing a congress of the women’s branch of his ruling party in the northwestern city of Bursa, a day after Turkey launched an air and ground offensive in the northwestern Syrian enclave of Afrin to clear it of U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Erdogan said Afrin was a predominantly Arab area and that Turkey was determined to return it to its rightful owners.

The Turkish leader also wowed to defeat the Syrian Kurdish group, warning them not to rely on weapons supplied by the United States.


3:40 p.m.

The French foreign ministry said France is calling for a U.N. security council emergency meeting over the deteriorating situation in Syria.

France’s call comes Sunday after Turkish troops and Syrian opposition forces attacked a Kurdish enclave in northern Syria in their bid to drive a U.S.-allied Kurdish militia from the area.

The ministry said in a written statement that French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian spoke to his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, by phone Sunday.

France urged Turkish authorities “to act with restraint in a context where the humanitarian situation is deteriorating in several regions of Syria,” the statement said.

France also condemned the “indiscriminate bombings” targeting inhabited areas and medical centers led by the Syrian regime in the northwestern province of Idlib in recent weeks.


3:30 p.m.

Syria’s military says its capture of a key air base in the country’s northwest is an “achievement” that secures roads between the northern provinces.

Army spokesman Gen. Ali Mayhoub said in a televised statement on Sunday that the capture of the Abu Zuhour air base in Idlib province was “a blow” to the insurgents who had controlled the base since 2015. Mayhoub called it the second largest military base in northern Syria and said it was being cleared of booby traps and land mines. He said its capture secures the roads between the Hama, Idlib and Aleppo provinces.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Syrian government forces and allied militias were also working to secure the air base. Mayhoub said the government offensive has also captured 300 villages in rural Idlib, Hama and Aleppo.

The offensive on Idlib - the largest rebel stronghold remaining in Syria - started last month and has displaced more than 212,000 civilians.

It’s a separate offensive from the Turkish-led military operation in a Kurdish-run enclave in neighboring Aleppo province.


3:20 p.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he hopes Turkey will conclude its operation in a Syrian Kurdish enclave in a short period of time.

Addressing crowds in the northwestern Turkish city of Bursa on Sunday, Erdogan said Turkey was determined to clear the enclave of Afrin of U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia that Turkey considers to be terrorists, saying: “there is no stepping back.”

“We are not alone… Allah is with us,” Erdogan said: “Got willing, this operation will come to an end in a short time.”

Meanwhile, Turkey’s state-run news agency said Turkish prosecutors had launched investigations into several social media users suspected of engaging in Kurdish rebel “propaganda” through postings criticizing the Turkish operation in Afrin.


1 p.m.

A Kurdish militia and a Syrian war monitoring group have denied reports that Turkish troops have entered a Kurdish enclave in northern Syria.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the Kurdish militia and Turkish forces have clashed on the northern and western edges of Afrin, but that Turkish troops have failed to advance.

Mustafa Bali, spokesman for the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, which is dominated by the Kurdish militia, said attempts to infiltrate Afrin have been repelled since Saturday. He said Turkish aircraft have continued to strike Afrin.

The Turkish military says its offensive, named operation Olive Branch, aims to rid the region of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG.

Bali said the SDF, which is the main U.S. ally in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria, has reinforced YPG ranks in order to defend Afrin.

Syrian opposition fighters are battling alongside the Turkish troops in the latest front to open in the war in Syria.


12:20 p.m.

Turkey’s state-run news agency says Turkish ground troops have entered a Kurdish-held enclave in northern Syria and are advancing with Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces.

Anadolu Agency said the troops pushed into Afrin on Sunday, a day after Turkish jets pounded Syrian Kurdish targets in the region.

The Turkish military says its offensive, named operation Olive Branch, aims to rid the region of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG.

Turkey considers the YPG a terror organization because of its affiliation to Kurdish rebels fighting in southeastern Turkey, and had been threatening to attack Afrin for weeks. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promised to expand the operation to other Kurdish regions.

The YPG is a key U.S. ally in the war against the Islamic State group.


10:20 a.m.

A Turkish official says suspected Syrian Kurdish fighters have fired rockets from across the border, slightly wounding one person.

Gov. Mehmet Tekinarslan says four rockets struck the town of Kilis early Sunday, hitting two houses and an office. He says Turkish artillery returned fire. The attack came as dozens of Turkish jets pounded the Kurdish-run enclave of Afrin in northern Syria.

Afrin is controlled by a Syrian Kurdish militia that Turkey views as part of the Kurdish insurgency in its southeast. The militia forms the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the main U.S. ally against the Islamic State group in Syria.

The state-run Anadolu Agency says Turkey-backed Syrian forces have penetrated the enclave and are advancing.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim says a Turkish ground offensive could begin Sunday.

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