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Syria: What is Turkey waiting for to leave Afrin?

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)
A sniper takes aim as Turkish-backed militants enter the village of Baay, south of Afrin, Syria, on March 22, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

The Syrian government has once again called on Turkey to immediately withdraw its troops from the Syrian town of Afrin, citing Turkish officials’ own assertions that an alleged security threat posed by the Kurdish militants there has ended.

In a statement carried by Syria’s official news agency SANA on Monday, an official source in the Foreign Ministry said Damascus reiterated its call for the “immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the Turkish occupation forces from the Syrian territories.”

He referred to recent statements made by Turkish officials about the end of the “security threat” posed by militants in Afrin, which Ankara originally used as a “pretext” to deploy troops to the town. Ankara had set the removal of that purported threat as a precondition to withdraw its forces from Syria.

“If we take seriously for once the statements of the Turkish regime’s officials, which are deceptive and lack any credibility, the question that poses itself is: if the alleged security threat is gone, what is the Justice and Development Party government waiting for to withdraw its invading forces from Syria?” the source said, referring to the name of Turkey’s ruling party.

The source stressed that the Turkish military presence on Syrian territory was a blatant violation of international law, and appealed to the international community to take action to put an end to the aggression, which has displaced thousands of people.

Displaced Syrians from Tal Rafaat and areas around Afrin take shelter near the village of Kharufiyah, on the southern outskirts of Manbij, Syria, March 22, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

The Turkish military said on March 24 that it had established full control over Syria’s Afrin after more than two months of battles with US-backed militants controlling Syria’s northern border regions.

Turkey began the so-called Operation Olive Branch in Afrin on January 20 to clear the northern Syrian border of the US-backed Kurdish militants of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), whom it associates with the homegrown Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighting for autonomy on Turkish soil.

The Turkish military says it has exercised “utmost care” not to harm civilians. The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based monitor, however, said last week that more than 280 civilians had been killed since the onset of the operation.

The Turkish operation has been launched without permission from the Syrian government. It has also pitted Ankara against Washington, which has armed and supports the Kurdish militants.

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