Turkey says border town hit by rockets from Syria; 1 wounded

Turkey says border town hit by rockets from Syria; 1 wounded
The Associated Press

HASSA, Turkey (AP) — Four rockets fired from Syria hit a Turkish border town on Sunday as Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters pushed forward with an offensive to drive Syrian Kurdish forces from an enclave in northern Syria, the state-run news agency reported.

Gov. Mehmet Tekinarslan said four rockets struck the town of Kilis, hitting two houses, an office and slightly wounding one person. The Turkish artillery returned fire, the governor said.

The attack came after dozens of Turkish jets pounded the Kurdish-run enclave of Afrin on Saturday as part of an offensive, codenamed Olive Branch, that came on the heels of sharp threats from Turkey’s leaders. Ten civilians were wounded in the airstrikes, three seriously, according to the Syrian Kurdish group.

Afrin is controlled by a Syrian Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which Turkey views as part of the Kurdish insurgency in its southeast. The YPG 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 said Turkey-backed Syrian forces have penetrated the enclave and were advancing but did not provide details. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim says a Turkish ground offensive could begin Sunday.

Associated Press journalists on the border saw a convoy of trucks, believed to belong to the Ankara-backed Syrian opposition fighters, carrying pick-up trucks mounted with arms or radar equipment. Artillery shelling could be heard in the distance.

Turkey has prepared around 10,000 Syrian fighters to storm Afrin, according Rami Abdurrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group.

A Syrian commander speaking to the AP by phone from northern Syria said there were thousands of fighters positioned in Azaz, at the frontier with the Kurdish enclave, awaiting orders. Another commander said hundreds more were stationed in Atmeh, south of Afrin. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Turkish leaders were infuriated by an announcement by the U.S. military this week that it was going to create a 30,000-strong border force with the Kurdish fighters to secure northern Syria. Days later, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that the U.S. would maintain a military presence with the Kurds for the foreseeable future.

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Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey contributed to this report.

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