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Turkish forces lay siege to Syria’s key Kurdish town, civilians fleeing

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Syrian Kurds flee their homes in the northwestern city of Afrin on March 13, 2018 after Turkish forces lay siege to the town. (AFP photo)

Turkish forces and allied Syrian militants have laid siege to the main urban center of the Kurdish region of Afrin in northwestern Syria, forcing thousands of the civilian population in the city to escape their homes.

In a Tuesday statement, the Turkish military said it launched the siege of the town of Afrin on Monday, noting that it took control of “critical areas” of the town without providing further details.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians are currently encircled by the military conflict, with thousands of them trying to escape the town toward nearby areas controlled by the Syrian government as the Turkish troops got closer.

Syria's Al-khbariya TV showed vehicles and trucks loaded with civilians leaving the town on Monday.

Residents said some of their relatives came under fire as they tried to take the road out of the enclave.

Water supply was cut off to the town after Turkish forces seized control of the local dam and residents merely rely on water wells for their consumption.

According to top Syrian Kurdish official, Fawza Yousef, Syrian government forces have been stationed along the border with two government-held villages to the southeast of Afrin, Nubl and Zahraa, to protect them.

"We expect Turkey to invade the town," she said.

Civilians fleeing their homes in the northwestern city of Afrin on March 13, 2018 after Turkish forces started siege on the town. (AFP photo)

Turkey has been waging “Operation Olive Branch” against Syria’s Afrin region since January 20 in a bid to eliminate the YPG, which forms the backbone of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that enjoys US support. The Turkish government views the People's Protection Units (YPG) as a terror organization and the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group. The latter has been fighting for an autonomous region inside Turkey since 1984.

According to Syria's official news agency SANA, more than 222 civilians, most of whom women and children, have been killed and over 700 others injured since the launch of Turkish shelling and airstrikes.

The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says over one million civilians face an "unknown fate" as Turkey is laying siege to the region.

The pro-Syrian government forces entered Afrin region late February to repel Turkey’s offensive.

This is the first time that Syrian government forces have been deployed in the region since 2012 when the YPG held the area under its control.

In the absence of Syrian air cover, the YPG is defenseless against Turkish airstrikes, which pave the way for ground forces to advance.

The Syrian government has already condemned the “brutal Turkish aggression” against Afrin, rejecting Ankara’s claim about having informed Damascus of the operation.

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