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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Erdogan threatens Kurds: Afrin will be occupied by nightfall

Turkish bombing raids killed 10 fighters loyal to the Syrian government

A Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army soldier watches with binoculars as smoke rises after a bomb attack during an offensive, at Der Mismis Village, southeast of Afrin.
Stringer / EPA
A Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army soldier watches with binoculars as smoke rises after a bomb attack during an offensive, at Der Mismis Village, southeast of Afrin. Stringer / EPA

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday said he hoped the northern Syrian town of Afrin would "fall by evening" to Turkish forces and rebel allies.

Turkey-backed fighters on Tuesday had announced they had encircled the Kurdish enclave after reaching the outskirts on Saturday, raising concerns for tens of thousands of civilians trapped in the town.

According to a presidential source who asked not to be named, the president's statement should be understood as "the encirclement will have been completed by the evening".

Mr Erdogan, speaking to local administrators in Ankara, said civilians were being evacuated in cars through a special corridor.

"We have got a little bit closer to Afrin. I hope that Afrin will, God willing, have completely fallen by the evening," Mr Erdogan said in the speech.

A top Syrian Kurdish official dismissed Turkish hopes of occupying the city by nightfall as a mere "daydream."

"It sounds like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is daydreaming when he says Afrin will fall tonight," said Redur Khalil, a senior official and spokesman of the People's Protection Units (YPG), the Kurdish militia which holds the city.

Mr Erdogan's boastful comment came as Turkish bombing raids killed 10 fighters loyal to the Syrian government at a checkpoint they were manning near Afrin.

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"The air strikes targeted a checkpoint on the only road leading from Afrin to regime-controlled territory to the southeast," the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The road that was bombed on Wednesday is the only official way out of the town and while it has not been fully captured by pro-Turkish assault, it is within firing range.

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said some civilians were trying to escape from Afrin along smuggling routes avoiding the main road.

Mr Erdogan also raised the prospect of a cross-border operation in northern Iraq where the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a decades long struggle against the Turkish army, has its rear bases.

"We are surveying the terror nests in northern Iraq at every opportunity," said Mr Erdogan. "Soon we will bring these down on the heads of the terrorists in the strongest way."

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