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US calls on Turkey to ‘exercise restraint’ in Syria

A Turkish soldier sits a tank near the Syrian border before entering neighbouring Syria as part of "Operation Olive Branch" on January 21, 2018
AFP

Washington (AFP) – The United States called Sunday for Turkey to “exercise restraint” and avoid civilian casualties in its cross-border operation targeting Syrian Kurdish forces.

The call came a day after Turkey launched “Operation Olive Branch,” an offensive by Ankara’s troops and allied Syrian rebels against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the town of Afrin.

“We urge Turkey to exercise restraint and ensure that its military operations remain limited in scope and duration and scrupulous to avoid civilian casualties,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

“We call on all parties to remain focused on the central goal of defeating the Islamic State jihadist group,” Nauert said.

The YPG has been a key US ally in the war against IS, helping to drive the jihadist group from swaths of Syrian territory, including its stronghold Raqa.

But Ankara considers YPG fighters to be “terrorists” linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been engaged in a separatist struggle against the Turkish state since 1984.

A Britain-based monitoring group and a YPG spokesman both said that Turkish air raids killed eight civilians in northern Syria on Sunday.

On Saturday, the YPG’s Birusk Hasakeh told AFP that a Turkish bombardment had killed 10 people, including seven civilians. 

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Sunday that claims of civilian casualties from the offensive were untrue. 

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