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Turkey denies chemical weapons use, calling accusations 'black propaganda'

Diplomatic source says Turkish military operations in northern Syria take 'utmost care' of civilians
A Syrian man receives treatment in Afrin after a suspected chemical attack that Kurdish militias accuse Turkey of carrying out (AFP)

Turkey has denied claims that it used chemical weapons during operations in Syria’s Afrin region after Kurdish forces accused it of carrying out a gas attack.

"These are baseless accusations. Turkey never used chemical weapons. We take utmost care about civilians in Operation Olive Branch," a Turkish diplomatic source said Saturday, using the codename for its intervention in Afrin.

The source further described the accusation made on Friday that six civilians had been wounded in a suspected gas attack as "black propaganda".

Turkey launched an air and ground offensive last month on the Kurdish controlled Afrin region that sits on its southern border. The campaign, a new front in Syria’s multi-sided war, aims to capture the exclave from the predominantly Kurdish YPG militia.

Turkish soldiers involved in Operation Olive Branch in North East Afrin (Reuters)

YPG spokesman Biruk Hasaka said on Friday that Turkey had bombarded a village in Afrin that caused six people to suffer breathing problems and other symptoms indicative of a gas attack.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said Turkish forces and their Syrian insurgent allies hit the village on Friday with shells. The Britain-based war monitoring group said medical sources in Afrin reported that six people in the attack suffered breathing difficulties and dilated pupils, indicating a suspected gas attack.

"Shelling from either Turkey or allied factions hit Al-Sheikh Hadid and left six people with enlarged pupils and breathing difficulties," Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said on Friday but added that he could not confirm whether toxic gases were used. 

An AFP correspondent at the Afrin hospital said he saw six men wearing oxygen masks and lying under wool blankets, some of them fading in and out of consciousness. 

US-Kurdish alliance angers Turkey

Since the onset of the conflict in 2011, the YPG and its allies have set up three autonomous cantons in the north, including Afrin. Their sphere of influence expanded as they seized territory from Islamic State with US help, though Washington opposes their autonomy plans as does the Syrian government.

Operation Olive Branch is the second military operation conducted by Turkey in Syria after they launched Operation Euphrates Shield in August 2016. That operation aimed to prevent the YPG from uniting the large region of northern Syria under their control with the exclave of Afrin.

US support for Kurdish-led forces in Syria has infuriated Ankara, which views them as a security threat along its frontier. Turkey sees the YPG as terrorists and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency on Turkish soil

The SOHR says at least 78 civilians have so far died in the assault on Afrin while local health authorities have reported more than 100 civilian deaths.

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