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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Syrian Kurdish leaders call on civilians to take up arms against Turkey

Syrian Kurdish leaders called on civilians on Tuesday to take up arms to defend the Afrin enclave against an ongoing Turkish assault that is now in its fourth day.

"We announce a general mobilisation and we invite ... our people to defend Afrin," the Kurdish enclave's autonomous administration said in a statement.

"It is an invitation for all Kurds in Syria to take up arms," the administration's spokesman Rezan Hedo said.

Earlier that day Turkey demanded an end to America's controversial alliance with the YPG, the Syrian Kurdish militia fighting to defend Afrin.

The announcement by Ibrahim Kalin, Turkey’s presidential spokesperson, comes just days after president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Trump administration stepped up their war of words as Turkish tanks, reinforced by airstrikes, pressed on with their offensive against US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Mr Erdogan warned that US weapons shipments to Kurdish forces in Syria would ultimately be turned against his country.

“They refused to give arms to us with money but they are giving weapons to the terrorist organisation free of charge. Why are we strategic partners? Why are we strategic allies?” said Mr Erdogan, referring to the YPG as a terror organisation.

“One must be a fool not to understand that this treacherous project’s target is Turkey," he said.

US vice president Mike Pence during his trip to Israel affirmed that his country will continue its efforts against ISIL until the group is “driven to extinction".

“We recognise Turkey as a NATO ally, they have a right to protect their border, and the presence of Kurdish forces along the Turkish border has precipitated this response from Turkey,” he said. “But our message has been that we want to see Turkey and Kurdish forces de-escalate. We want to see dialogue to resolve the differences.”

US defence secretary Jim Mattis urged Turkey on Tuesday to exercise restraint in its military operations in northern Syria, which he said had disrupted the peaceful return of refugees and could prove to be an opening for Al Qaeda and ISIL.

"Obviously it risks exacerbating the humanitarian crisis that most of Syria is going through," he said.

Four days of fighting since Turkey launched an offensive on Afrin have left at least 54 Syrian fighters dead. Among them were 26 Kurdish members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The Turkish military also announced its first fatality - a soldier killed in a cross-border raid.

The increased violence in Afrin disrupts “a relatively stable area of Syria” and “distracts from international efforts to ensure the lasting defeat” of ISIL, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said.

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Read more:

Syria: Who's backing who and why?

Turkish offensive adds to Syria quagmire

Erdogan says 'no step back' in operation against Kurds in Syria

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France's UN ambassador says he has told the Security Council that Syria is at "a crossroads," with the worst scenario leading to fragmentation and ethnic cleansing and the best scenario leading to peace.

Ambassador Francois Delattre told reporters after closed briefings to the council on Monday by the UN humanitarian and political chiefs that Turkey's offensive in Afrin is just "part of the equation."

The council issued no statement after the briefings.

Turkey also launched air strikes in northern Iraq on Kurdish militants planning an attack, the army said on Tuesday.

The strikes took place on Monday and the army said it was targeting members of the "separatist terrorist organisation" - Turkey's official term for the outlawed YPG-linked Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The militants were planning an attack on border security posts and bases, the military said, adding that the strikes destroyed weapons emplacements and shelters.

The Turkish air force has regularly carried out raids on PKK rear bases around the Qandil mountains in northern Iraq since a two-year ceasefire collapsed in 2015.

Meanwhile in Turkey, police arrested 42 people including a pro-Kurdish politician overnight for "spreading terrorist propaganda" on social media about Turkey's military operation.

The police raids, which state-run Anadolu news agency said were focused on the Western province of Izmir, brought the number of such detentions to around 70 since "Operation Olive Branch" was launched at the weekend.

Journalists crossing into Turkey from Iraq this week say Turkish authorities have increased their security measures, including lengthy interrogations and mobile and laptop inspection. Individuals were questioned one whether they had ties to the PKK.

Activists say Turkey has mobilized about 10,000 Syrian fighters to storm Afrin, with some stationed in Azaz, on the eastern edge of enclave and others to the south in Atmeh. There are an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 Kurdish fighters and it is home to about 800,000 civilians, including Christians and Yazidis.

Civilians reportedly stocked up on food and medicine as they readied for a potential onslaught. Shelters were prepared and the internet was only functioning sporadically.