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20 Jan, 2018 14:20

Turkish planes bomb Syrian Kurdish targets as Ankara-backed rebels enter Afrin (VIDEOS)

Turkish planes bomb Syrian Kurdish targets as Ankara-backed rebels enter Afrin (VIDEOS)

Turkish aircraft have bombed Kurdish targets in Afrin, Syria, according to Turkey's prime minister. Ankara-backed Syrian opposition fighters have also entered the Kurdish enclave, state media reported.

“TSK (Turkish Armed Forces) has started airborne operations,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said at a party congress Saturday, as quoted by Hurriyet. Yildirim said eight F-16 jets were involved in the aerial sortie.

READ MORE: Turkish field op against Afrin Kurds ‘de facto underway’ – Erdogan

“As of this moment our brave Armed Forces have started the aerial offensive to eliminate the PYD and PKK and [Islamic State] elements in Afrin,” Yildirim said.

Turkey’s General Staff officially declared the start of ‘Operation Olive Branch,’ according to a statement cited by Turkish newspaper Sol. 

Turkish jets attacked the Mannagh Air Base, a military airport in northwest Syria under the control of a Syrian Kurdish military group, Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency reported. It quoted military officials who said warplanes have, so far, struck 108 out of a total of 113 Syrian Kurdish militia targets in the Afrin region.

Turkey's Chief of General Staff said in a statement that 72 planes were part of the operation Saturday, adding, that the fighter jets returned to their bases in preparation for subsequent missions, Hurriyet reported

Turkish media also reported that Ankara had informed Damascus about the offensive in Afrin "by writing."

As the military assault began,Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag tweeted that Turkey respects Syria's territorial integrity. Ankara has assured Moscow and other concerned nations that the offensive is only targeting "terrorists."

A senior Kurdish official claimed that Turkish warplanes had struck the residential areas of Afrin, forcing people to retreat inside their homes and in shelters, Reuters reported. Several wounded people rushed to a local hospital, according to Hevi Mustafa, a senior member of the civilian administration which governs the area.

AP journalists at the Turkish border reported seeing at least five jets heading toward Afrin. Also sighted was a convoy of buses, believed to be carrying Syrian opposition fighters, and trucks mounted with machine guns.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu discussed the military action with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Turkish officials said. Senior ministry staff earlier said that Tillerson had requested a telephone conversation with his Turkish counterpart. Ankara’s Chief of Military Staff, Hulusi Akar, has also spoken with his US and Russian counterparts, according to Turkish media reports.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have meanwhile accused Turkey of using cross-border shelling as a false pretext to launch the offensive in Syria, according to Reuters. The SDF, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias fighting Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS), said it has no choice but to defend itself if attacked. The alliance controls areas in the country's east and north.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Moscow is monitoring the situation closely, expressing concerns over recent developments in the area. The ministry’s statement called on all sides in the conflict to exercise restraint.

It comes after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier Saturday that Ankara had “de facto” begun its operation against Kurdish forces in Afrin. He said the campaign would be “followed by Manbij,” referring to the Kurdish-controlled town in northern Syria.

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