Kurdish fighters apparently fled the city without a fight
Turkey’s flag was flying in Syria’s Afrin on Sunday after Turkish troops and Ankara-backed rebels chased out Kurdish militia forces to seize control of the city.
In a major victory for Ankara’s two-month operation against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria, Turkey-led forces pushed into Afrin apparently unopposed, taking up positions across the city.
The advance came as Syria’s civil war entered its eighth year this week with heavy fighting on two fronts — around Afrin and in the rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus.
Hundreds have been killed and thousands forced from their homes by the ferocious assault in Ghouta, where Russian-backed forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad are battling to retake the last rebel enclave outside the capital.
In Afrin, AFP correspondents saw Turkish forces and their Syrian allies in all neighbourhoods of the city after they made a lightning advance inside on Sunday.
Rebels fanned out across the city, giving victory signs and taking pictures with Turkish tanks parked outside official buildings.
The flags of Turkey and Syrian rebel groups were raised in the city and a statue of Kurdish hero Kawa, a symbol of resistance against oppressors, was torn down.
Civilians were seen fleeing the city and plumes of smoke rose into the sky as mines exploded.
Around 2,50,000 civilians had left in recent days after pro-Ankara fighters all but surrounded the city, fleeing southwards to territory still held by the YPG or controlled by the Syrian regime.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that Turkey-backed fighters had taken control of the city centre at 8:30 a.m. (0530 GMT).
Mr. Erdoğan has said that the operation could move on to other Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Syria.
Residents said it appeared that YPG units had withdrawn from the city without a fight. Officials with the Kurdish militia could not be immediately reached for comment.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 280 civilians have been killed since the campaign began on January 20 — including 16 at a hospital on Friday.
The Observatory said Sunday that more than 1,500 Kurdish fighters had been killed since the start of the offensive on January 20, most of them in air strikes and artillery fire.
More than 400 pro-Ankara rebels have also been killed, it said. The Turkish military says 46 Turkish soldiers have died.