Syrian Kurd leaders call for mass mobilisation to defend Afrin
The Kurdish-led authorities of northeast Syria called on Tuesday for mass mobilisation in defence of Syria's Afrin region against a Turkish military offensive.
Turkey's air and ground offensive, now into its fourth day, is targeting US-backed Kurdish YPG fighters in Afrin, near the Turkish border. It has opened a new front in Syria's multi-sided civil war.
Ankara sees the YPG as an extension of a separatist Kurdish group within its own borders which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.
"The will of the people cannot be vanquished," the civilian administration said in a statement received by the Reuters news agency.
"We call on all our noble people to defend Afrin and its pride, and to contribute in all related activities."
Thousands of fighters chanted and raised their weapons in solidarity with Afrin at a rally in Hasaka, in what Syrian Kurd authorities call the canton of Jazira.
Siyamand Walat, the general commander of the self-defence forces in the north, said that if necessary, "all the soldiers here will go to Afrin... We are ready at any moment".
Syrian Kurdish forces and their allies have set up three autonomous cantons in the north, including Afrin in the northwest, since the start of the Syrian conflict.
They lie outside the control of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Syrian Kurds and allied forces have seized large swathes of territory by helping the United States and its allies to drive Islamic State militants from the area.
The YPG is a key ally of the United States in Syria, much to Turkey's fury.
Deploying any reinforcements to Afrin from the east could be a complicated journey and would appear to require passing through territory under the control of the Assad government.
The call for a mass mobilisation came hours after the spokesman for the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said his forces would continue operations in Syria until the 3.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey could return home.