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Turkish forces shell convoy entering Afrin

Ankara claims the convoy passing into northwestern Syria was carrying fighters, but Kurdish forces said it was made up of civilians carrying food and medicine
Vehicles from the convoy burn at the Al-Ziara crossing in Afrin (AFP)
By Reuters

The Turkish army struck a convoy entering the Kurdish-held Afrin region in northwestern Syria on Thursday, which Ankara said carried fighters and weapons but Kurdish forces said was made up of civilians entering with food and medicine.

In a statement on Friday, the Turkish military said a fleet of some 30 to 40 vehicles of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia had approached the main town in the region. 

It said artillery had hit the convoy "carrying terrorists, weapons and ammunition".

The YPG said the convoy, which arrived in Afrin late on Thursday, had transported civilians from the Jazeera region further east and other towns under the control of Kurdish forces.

Birusk Hasaka, the YPG's spokesman in Afrin, said the convoy included hundreds of people. The shelling set some cars ablaze, wounding at least 10 people and killing one passenger.

"The convoy was headed to stand in solidarity with the people of Afrin, carrying food aid and medical supplies," he told Reuters.

Turkey launched an assault in Afrin last month, seeking to drive out the YPG which it deems a menace along its border. It denies hitting civilians during the offensive.

"As always all attention and sensitivity was shown so that civilians were not harmed," the Turkish military said on Friday.

It released aerial video footage showing a series of explosions and smoke rising from a country road.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday the army was making every effort to avoid harming any civilians.

Human Rights Watch said it had investigated three attacks in Afrin last month in which Turkish troops failed to prevent civilian casualties.

Air strikes and shelling on a cluster of tents, a poultry farm and a house killed 26 civilians, including 17 children, it said.

"It appears that vulnerable civilians are facing displacement and death because of the way Turkey's latest offensive is being conducted," said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at the US-based group.

Since the onset of Syria's conflict in 2011, the YPG and its allies have carved out three autonomous cantons in the north.

Their territory expanded as they defeated the Islamic State group with US help, although Washington opposes their demands for autonomy, as does the Syrian government.

This week, militias allied to Damascus were deployed to Afrin to help fight the Turkish assault.

The Damascus government has also been allowing Kurdish fighters, civilians and politicians to pass through its territory to Afrin in recent weeks.

In a statement, the YPG accused Turkey of trying to "create a state of terror and force people towards mass displacement" with air strikes and arbitrary shelling in Afrin.

Ankara sees the YPG as an extension of the banned Kurdish PKK movement, which has waged a decades-long campaign on Turkish soil.

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