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The Latest: Turkey’s Erdogan warns Kurds not to protest

The Latest: Turkey's Erdogan warns Kurds not to protest
The Associated Press

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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