Iran Rejects Turkey’s Military Operation in Syria’s Afrin

Iranian Foreign Ministry on Sunday urged Turkey to protect the territorial integrity of Syria and respect the national sovereignty of the Arab state as Ankara launched a land operation against the Kurdish militants entering Syria’s Afrin, Xinhua reports. Iran on Sunday called for a quick end to a Turkish incursion into northern Syria’s Afrin province, saying it may help “terrorist” groups.

The Islamic Republic is concerned about the recent developments in the Syrian city of Afrin, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qasemi said in a statement on Sunday. Tehran hopes Ankara to end the operation “immediately” to prevent escalation of the crisis in the border regions of the two neighbors, Qasemi said.

“Iran hopes that this operation will be ended immediately to prevent a deepening of the crisis in the border regions of Turkey and Syria. A continued crisis in Afrin may boost …terrorist groups in northern Syria,” it quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi as saying.

Turkey launched the Operation Olive Branch on Saturday which aims to clear its borders from the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish group considered by Ankara as the Syrian affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The military operation aims to establish a 30 km security zone in the Afrin province from the Turkish border, he told in a briefing to journalists.

Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies began their push to clear YPG fighters from the northwestern enclave on Saturday, opening a new front in Syria’s civil war despite calls for restraint from the United States, which has armed the YPG.

Ankara considers the YPG a terrorist organization with ties to Kurdish militant separatists within Turkey, and it has been infuriated by U.S. support for the fighters. Washington, which is backing the YPG in the battle against Islamic State in Syria, said on Sunday it was concerned about the situation.

At least 18 civilians have been killed in the Turkish military campaign against Syria’s Kurdish-held Afrin enclave in northern Syria, a monitor group reported Sunday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the deaths occurred in Afrin and surrounding villages, as Turkey started its offensive on Saturday by airstrikes and shelling and commenced its ground incursion on Sunday to drive out the Kurdish forces from border areas between Syria and Turkey.

Kurdish activists said 11 civilians, including six children and women, were killed and 16 others wounded on Sunday in Afrin by the Turkish fire.

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, said four of its fighters were killed as well as 10 fighters of the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) since Saturday when the Turkish-backed forces attempted to storm several border villages of Afrin.

An official in the YPG, Mahmoud Bardakhan, declared on Sunday the beginning of a “revolutionary campaign against the Turkish enemy” and FSA, which is involved in the Turkish campaign against Afrin. Kurdish activists said the Kurdish fighters took several FSA fighters as captives during the military showdown in Afrin.

Turkish tanks, reinforced by an aerial bombardment, advanced toward a stronghold of U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters on Monday, in an offensive that’s strained ties with Washington and complicated Russian efforts to end Syria’s seven-year civil war.

Ignoring warnings from the U.S., Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered an incursion into Syria over the weekend, accusing the U.S. of overarming Kurdish forces and encouraging their separatist aspirations. Turkish troops and rebels from the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army launched a three-pronged attack on the northwest town of Afrin to clear it of the Kurdish fighters. The Kurds led the U.S. campaign to rout Islamic State from Syria, but Turkey regards them as a terrorist menace with designs on its territory.

The faceoff with the U.S. over Afrin exacerbates already considerable strains that have tested Turkey’s relations with Washington in recent years, including a Turkish banker’s conviction in the U.S. on sanctions violation charges, and U.S. resistance to extraditing a Turkish-born preacher whom Ankara accuses of instigating a failed 2016 coup.

The Kurdish forces are reported to have reinforced Afrin and “the city is known to have a wide network of tunnels. In this context, ‘clearing Afrin’ could take an extended period of time and it might prove costly,” QNB Finansbank chief economist Gokce Celik said in an email on Monday.

“Although the operation seemed to be well-advertised, the news flow might prove unnerving for investors in the upcoming period, causing the underperformance of lira-denominated assets relative to peers,” Celik added.