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Turkey to expand Syria op to Kurdish-held towns

By Agencies
March 20, 2018

ANKARA: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday vowed to expand Turkey’s Syria campaign to other Kurdish-held areas up to the Iraqi border, a day after pro-Ankara forces ousted Kurdish militia from their former enclave of Afrin.

“Now we will continue this process until we entirely eliminate this corridor, including in Manbij, Ayn al-Arab, Tel-Abyad, Ras al-Ayn and Qamishli,” he said, referring to areas controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

At least 20 civilians have died in a resumption of bombing on Douma, the largest town in shrinking rebel-controlled pockets of Syria’s Eastern Ghouta, a monitor said Monday. Thirteen were killed late Sunday in air strikes and artillery fire on the battered town, and another seven were killed Monday morning, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The fresh bloodshed came after a week-long lull in the bombardment of Douma after negotiations between rebels and regime-backer Russia allowed medical evacuations from the town. The United States warned its NATO ally Turkey on Monday it is “deeply concerned” by reports that a Turkish-led assault on the Syrian city of Afrin triggered a civilian exodus. “We are also concerned over reports of looting inside the city of Afrin,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

“We have repeatedly expressed our serious concern to Turkish officials regarding the situation in Afrin,” she said.EU sanctions 4 Syrian officials over chemical weapons: The EU on Monday sanctioned four senior Syrian officials over the use of chemical weapons against civilians, amid reports President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have deployed chlorine gas in the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta.

EU foreign ministers hit a brigadier-general and three scientists working for the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC) with travel bans and asset freezes, taking to 261 the number of regime figures punished by the bloc over the seven-year conflict.

“The EU added these four persons for their role in the development and use of chemical weapons against the civilian population, in line with the EU’s policy to fight the proliferation and use of chemical weapons,” said a statement after ministers agreed the measures in Brussels.

“These persons include a high-ranking military official and three scientists working at the Scientific Studies and Research Centre.” Regime forces have been repeatedly accused of using chlorine in recent weeks during their fierce air and ground assault to retake Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, from anti-government rebels.

The EU has a broad package of sanctions in place over the Syrian conflict and Brussels has been pressing for a resumption of UN-led talks in Geneva aimed at bringing an end to the war.