Syrian Army Advances Further in Ghouta


Turkey's president said Sunday that allied Syrian forces have taken "total" control of the town center of Afrin, the target of a almost two-month offensive against a Syrian Kurdish militia, which said the fighting was still underway.

The evacuation is ongoing and is the latest in a series of mass evacuations that began in Eastern Ghouta on Thursday, Xinhua news agency reported.

He said mopping operations are underway and the Turkish flag has been raised in the town that sits less than 50 kilometers from the Turkish border.

Also on Sunday, state TV said the Syrian army had given a group of rebels in another pocket, the smaller Harasta area, an ultimatum to withdraw.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said almost 200,000 people fled the Afrin region in recent days amid heavy air strikes, entering Syrian government-held territory nearby.

Since the offensive's launch in January, some 1,500 Kurdish fighters have been killed, observers said yesterday.

Ebrahim Ebrahim, a Europe-based spokesman for the largest Kurdish group in Syria, the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, blasted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a "terrorists killing children".

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It launched its campaign eight weeks ago and threatened to extend the offensive to another Kurdish-controlled region further east where USA forces are stationed alongside the YPG, Washington's ally against IS militant group in Syria.

Earlier this week, they largely surrounded the enclave's sole city, which was home to some 350,000 people, including people displaced from other parts of the enclave already overrun.

Civilians in northwestern Syria's Afrin said Sunday that YPG/PKK terrorists had fled the town center several days before Turkey-backed troops took its control.

Syrian Kurdish officials claimed yesterday that their near-complete ousting from Afrin marked not a defeat but "a new phase" of guerrilla warfare. A Kurdish official Sunday said the fight against IS in northeastern Deir el-Zour province, where remnants of IS have remained, have been put on hold as the battle for Afrin unfolded. Erdogan has said the people of Afrin will return.

Ankara said the demand did not apply to Afrin, but its operation has faced criticism in the West. France's foreign minister said Turkey's concerns for its border security did not justify "the deep incursion of Turkish troops in the Afrin zone", which could also weaken worldwide action against remaining IS militants in Syria.

Turkey's military denied hitting the hospital, saying that its operation in Afrin "is carried out in such a way as to not cause any harm to civilians". "Human beings in Afrin are being killed", he said.