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US urges restraint, avoidance of civilian casualties, in Turkey’s Afrin offensive

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The United States has urged Turkey to show restraint in its ongoing military operation in the Kurdish-controlled Afrin region of northern Syria and to avoid civilian casualties.

“We urge Turkey to exercise restraint in its military actions and rhetoric; ensure that its operations are limited in scope and duration; ensure humanitarian aid continues; and avoid civilian casualties,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a press briefing on Monday.

“We hear and take seriously Turkey’s legitimate security concerns and are committed to working with Turkey as a NATO ally,” she said, but added that “increased violence in Afrin disrupts what [was] a relatively stable area of Syria,” echoing the words of US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who also said the violence “distracts from the international efforts to ensure the defeat of ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and Syria].”

Turkey on Saturday launched Operation Olive Branch in Afrin against People’s Protection Units (YPG) positions, a component of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), considered by authorities in Ankara to be an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has waged a decades-long war against the Turkish state.

The Turkish Armed Forces seeks to establish a 30-kilometer-deep safe zone in Afrin during the operation in which two Turkish soldiers have died in four days of fighting.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu is expected to discuss Operation Olive Branch with his US counterpart, Rex Tillerson, at a meeting in Paris, according to Milliyet.

Tillerson told reporters on his plane on Monday that “… we’re in discussions with the Turks and some of the forces on the ground as well as to how we can stabilize this situation and meet Turkey’s legitimate concerns for their security,” saying the US would try to work with Turkey to create the kind of security zone Turkey might need.

In comments reported on Monday by AP, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said intense fighting between Turkish troops and the US-allied Kurdish militia in recent days is a sign that new conflicts could erupt in the region as ISIS is defeated.

He warned that without a political solution to the multi-sided Syrian civil war, the region could again explode with conflicts “just as dramatic” as the war on ISIS.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Monitoring group said at least 24 civilians, 24 Kurdish fighters and 25 Turkish-backed Syrian militiamen have been killed in the clashes in Afrin since Saturday. Most of the civilians were killed in Turkish airstrikes, which have targeted towns and cities in the enclave.

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