Turkey will soon besiege Afrin as new phase of Operation Olive Branch begins: Erdoğan
The Turkish military will soon lay siege to the city of Afrin in northern Syria as a new phase of “Operation Olive Branch” begins, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has stated, amid speculation that pro-Syrian regime forces would take over the city from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) following a reported agreement between the two groups.
“Preparations in the field take some time. In the coming days we will lay siege to Afrin city. It’s very important that everywhere we go remains secure,” Erdoğan told his lawmakers at parliament on Feb. 20.
His statement came on the 32nd day of the operation aiming to clear YPG militants from the region. He said the operation is “advancing slowly because of the army’s sensitivity about avoiding civilian casualties.”
“Thanks to the siege, the YPG will have no room to bargain with the Syrian regime,” Erdoğan said, referring to news reports that the YPG would leave Afrin for the east of the Euphrates as the Syrian army took the control of the city.
“One should not forget the reality that we are not there to lay waste to the area but to turn it into a livable and secure place for hundreds of thousands of local people,” he added.
‘Dirty and secret negotiations’
Although local Syrian media suggested that a deal between the YPG and the Syrian regime had been reached over Afrin, senior Turkish officials said there were no evidence on the field to confirm such an agreement.
Presidential Spokesperson İbrahim Kalın claimed on Feb. 20 that reports about a deal between the Syrian regime and the YPG are “propaganda.”
“It is clear that the reports about a deal between the regime and the PYD/YPG have the purpose of propaganda. But that does not mean there has not been a set of dirty and secret negotiations. ‘Operation Olive Branch’ will continue with determination and will achieve its aim, no matter what they do,” Kalın said in a tweet via his official Twitter account.
On Feb. 19, state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported that pro-regime “Popular Forces” would enter Afrin in northwestern Syria “within hours.”
The YPG was reported to have held talks with Damascus after more than 70 different strategic areas were captured as a result of “Operation Olive Branch.”
FM: No troops enter Afrin region
Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said in an interview with private broadcaster Kanal 24 on Feb. 20 that Syrian regime forces have yet to enter Afrin and it is still unclear whether they would.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ on Feb. 19 had called the reports by SANA “unrealistic,” adding that officials have not confirmed pro-regime forces would enter Afrin.
“Although the official Syrian news agency SANA has reported that some forces linked to the Syrian regime will enter Afrin, this news has not been confirmed by official authorities. It is unrealistic and unrelated to fact,” he told reporters following a cabinet meeting in Ankara.