US says violence will escalate if Turkish forces enter Afrin city center

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U.S. Department of State Spokesperson Heather Nauert (Yasin Ozturk / Anadolu Agency)

US State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said at a press briefing on Tuesday that Turkish forces entering the city center of Afrin in northwestern Syria would result in an escalation of violence and potentially create a humanitarian crisis.

When asked by a reporter about Turkey’s declared intent to enter Afrin city center, Nauert said: “We have real concerns about that because of an escalation of violence. We have called … for a de-escalation of violence. The more that we would see Turkish forces enter into Syria proper, deeper into Syria, the more it stands to create a potential humanitarian crisis. … I think this further underscores the importance of the UN Security Council resolution that calls for a nationwide ceasefire … [which] would certainly help to stabilize the situation.”

The Turkish military and Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters on Jan. 20 launched Operation Olive Branch in the Afrin region of Syria against the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Turkey sees as the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Forty-one Turkish soldiers have been killed and 196 injured since the beginning of the operation.

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ had said on Feb. 25 that the UNSC 30-day ceasefire across Syria would not have “any effect on the operation that Turkey is pursuing” in Afrin, adding that Ankara would continue to fight what he called “terrorists” in Syria.

“In Operation Olive Branch in Afrin, Turkey is exercising its right to self-defense based on Article 51 of the UN Charter,” Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a statement on the ministry’s website after Nauert said during a previous press briefing that Turkey should “go back and read” the UN’s Syria ceasefire resolution.

Turkey deployed police special forces to the northwestern Syrian region of Afrin in late February for a “new battle” in its then-five-week campaign against Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, the armed branch of the PYD.

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