Hassa, Turkey – Intense fighting flared Monday as Turkish troops and their allies advanced on a Kurdish enclave in northwestern Syria, the third day of Ankara’s offensive to oust a U.S.-allied Kurdish militia from the area, according to the militia and a war monitoring group.
Skirmishes between Turkish troops and Kurdish fighters also broke out farther east in Syria, threatening to widen the scope of the new front in the Syrian war that pits Turkey against Washington’s main ally in the region.
Meanwhle, Reuters reported Monday that rescue workers in a Syrian rebel-held enclave east of Damascus accused government forces of using chlorine gas during bombardment of the area on Monday, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 13 people had suffered suffocation.
The Syrian army and government have consistently denied using chlorine or other chemical weapons during Syria’s conflict, now in its seventh year.
The Turkish ground and air offensive on Afrin, codenamed “Operation Olive Branch,” began Saturday, raising tensions in the already-complicated Syrian conflict and threatening to further strain ties between Turkey and the U.S., both NATO allies. Turkey says it aims to create a 30-kilometer (20-mile) deep “secure zone” in Afrin, the Kurdish-controlled enclave on its border.
The Turkish military announced late Monday its first fatality to the operation. It said a soldier was killed in cross-border raid.
A NATO statement said it has contacted Turkey over the offensive. NATO said Turkey has suffered from terrorism and has the right to self-defense but urged Ankara to do so in a “proportionate and measured way.”
NATO also said it has no presence in Syria but that as members of the anti-Islamic State coalition, “our focus is on the defeat” of the extremists. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Turkey has “legitimate security concerns” about Syria.
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