Turkey threatens clash with Syrian troops in Kurdish enclave

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Turkey has threatened to hit back at Syrian pro-government troops if they deploy in a northern Syrian enclave to protect a Kurdish militia which Ankara is battling there.

The warning by the Turkish foreign minister came shortly after Syrian state media said pro-government forces will begin entering the Kurdish-controlled enclave of Afrin in the country’s north-west “within hours”, after reaching an agreement with the Kurdish militia in control of the region.

The official Sana news agency said the forces will deploy in Afrin to “bolster” local forces in confronting Turkish “aggression”, suggesting the Syrian government and Kurdish fighters have struck a deal under which the government forces would help repel an ongoing Turkish offensive.

The agreement may prompt Turkey to pull out and end a month-long air and ground offensive which aims to oust the Syrian Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, from Afrin. Ankara considers the YPG a terrorist group linked to its own Kurdish insurgency.

Turkey’s foreign minister warned that his country is ready to battle Syrian government troops if they enter Afrin to protect the Kurdish fighters.

Speaking in the Jordanian capital of Amman, Mevlut Cavusoglu added that “if the regime is entering to protect the YPG, then no-one can stop us, stop Turkey or the Turkish soldiers”.

On the other hand, he said Ankara would have no problem if Syrian government forces enter Afrin to clear the area from YPG fighters.

The announcements came as violence continued in Afrin.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Syria’s state media reported that Turkish troops pounded villages in the enclave with artillery shells.

SANA gave no further details about the deployment of the troops, known as “popular forces”, to the area. The Syrian government withdrew from much of the border area with Turkey in 2012 and maintains no presence in Afrin.

A Syrian Kurdish official said Syrian troops will enter Afrin from the Shia villages of Nubul and Zahraa through the Ziyara crossing that links government-held parts of the country with those held by the YPG.

“The army will deploy in several border areas in coordination with the People’s Protection Units and the Syrian Democratic force,” said the official.

“The army will set up military positions in the border area and the agreement is that the Syrian army and the YPG will defend Syria together.”

He added that the agreement so far does not include anything about running the administration affairs in Afrin, saying this will be discussed in the future.

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