Turkey presses assault on Kurdish militia in Syria

Turkish forces are seen near Mount Barsaya, northeast of Afrin, Syria January 22,2018.

:: Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel allies pressed an assault on a border enclave held by Kurdish militia on Tuesday but the fighting was more narrowly focused, a monitor said.

Turkish warplanes carried out new strikes on the northwest of the Afrin enclave and also hit the outskirts of the mainly Kurdish-held city of Qamishli far to the east, wounding two children, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“The fighting is fierce but the focus is much narrower than yesterday (Monday),” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, adding that it was mainly concentrated in the north and the southwest of the enclave.

In the northeast of Afrin, pro-Ankara rebels entered the village of Qastal Jando, the Observatory said.

In the same area, Turkish forces and their allies had briefly captured a strategic hill on Monday but it was retaken by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the evening.

Barsaya Hill overlooks both the Syrian town of Azaz, which is held by pro-Ankara rebels, and the Turkish town of Kilis just across the border.

Ankara sees the YPG as an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has waged a bloody insurgency in southeastern Turkey since 1984.

After months of threats, on Saturday Turkey announced the launch of Operation Olive Branch, an air and ground assault aimed at dislodging the YPG from Afrin. On Sunday its troops crossed the border.

But the operation is hugely sensitive as Washington relied on the YPG to oust the Islamic State group from its strongholds in Syria and the Kurdish militia now holds much of the north.

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