Damascus (AsiaNews / Agencies) – The Syrian army has intervened in Afrin, in the north of the country, in support of the Kurdish Ypg militias (People’s Protection Unit), the goal of an impressive offensive recently launched by the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The presence of Damascus troops in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region risks exacerbating an already explosive situation in the area. The fear is that it could lead to an open war between Syria and Turkey.
Local sources report that “hundreds of pro-government fighters” arrived in the area yesterday. Their task will be to “patrol” the border with Turkey and collaborate with the Kurdish militia [who Ankara considers “terrorists”] to defend the territory from attacks across the border.
Upon their arrival in the Afrin area, Syrian soldiers were the object of a rocket fire and mortar shells from the Turkish artillery. Turkish state media speak of “warning shots” to block soldiers’ taking up posts.
Erdogan himself intervened on the matter, declaring that his army “will block the road” to any kind of reinforcement coming from the area. However, local sources confirm that the Syrian forces have reached the territory and are preparing for its defense, in view of an attempted “siege”, as the Turkish president declared yesterday.
According to the London-based Syrian Human Rights Observatory activists, since the start of the offensive two months ago, 205 victims were registered among the Turkish soldiers and 209 among the YPG Kurd militiamen. At least 112 civilians were killed, a figure contested by Ankara that downsizes the “collateral damage” of the operation.
The Syrian intervention in defense of the Kurds in the north, in an anti-Turkish key, worries the international chancelleries that fear a new escalation of the conflict. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says that in Syria “the worst is coming”. For this reason he decided to go “in the next few days” to Moscow and Teheran (allies of Damascus) to talk about the situation and look for a new way to put an end to a conflict that has now reached its seventh year.
Meanwhile, the Syrian army operation continues in the area of Ghouta east, a rebel stronghold on the outskirts of Damascus. According to UN experts, the situation in the area “is beyond the limits of imagination”. The area is controlled by the extremist Islamic group Jaysh al-Islam, which uses the help of the jihadist militias of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. About 400 thousand civilians live in “desperate” conditions. Local sources report that over three days of Syrian aviation air strikes more than 200 civilians have died, but there are no independent confirmations.