The Latest: Turkey denies reports that Syria will aid Kurds

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the conflict in Syria (all times local):

8 p.m.

A Turkish minister says reports that Syrian government forces are entering a Syrian Kurdish-held enclave “are false,” adding that any move by Damascus to protect the Kurdish militia there would be a “disaster” for the region.

Speaking to reporters after a weekly Cabinet meeting Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said Turkey was determined to continue its military offensive in the Afrin enclave and has no plans to withdraw.

Bozdag said “this offensive will continue with determination until the last terrorist is rendered ineffective.” Turkey views the Kurdish fighters in Afrin as terrorists because of their links to insurgents fighting inside Turkey’s borders.

Syrian state media reported earlier that pro-government forces would enter Afrin “within hours” to “bolster” local forces in confronting Turkey’s “aggression” after reaching an agreement with the Kurdish militia.

Bozdag said: “This report has not been confirmed by authorities. It is false and has no relation with the truth.”


4:45 p.m.

Turkish officials say the president has held a telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart during which the two reaffirmed their determination to cooperate in the fight against “terrorism” in Syria.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin on Monday also discussed Turkey’s military offensive in the Syrian Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin and their efforts to set up observation posts in Syria’s northern Idlib province. The posts are being set up as part of a joint Turkish, Russian and Iranian agreement to establish a “de-escalation” zone in the region.

The Turkish officials detailed the call on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations.

The two leaders spoke as Syrian state media reported that pro-Syrian government forces will begin entering Afrin. Turkey’s foreign minister has said his country is ready to battle the Syrian troops if they enter to protect Syrian Kurdish fighters.

— Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey


4:15 p.m.

Syrian opposition activists and paramedics say government airstrikes and the shelling of rebel-held eastern suburbs of the capital have killed at least 18 people.

The targeted suburbs, known as eastern Ghouta, have been subjected to weeks-long bombardment that has killed and wounded hundreds of people.

Opposition activists say government forces have brought in reinforcements in preparation for a wide offensive on the last main rebel stronghold near the capital.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday’s airstrikes and shelling on suburbs including Saqba, Sheifouniyeh and Jisreen killed 18 people.

The Syrian Civil Defense, volunteer first responders known as the White Helmets, said 30 people were killed in eastern Ghouta.

Syrian state TV reported that rebels fired dozens of mortar rounds and rockets at Damascus, wounding eight people.


1:20 p.m.

The Turkish foreign minister says his country is ready to battle Syrian government troops if they enter an enclave in northern Syria to protect Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke on Monday in Jordan’s capital, Amman, as Syrian state media reported that pro-Syrian government forces will begin entering the Afrin enclave “within hours,” after reaching an agreement with the Kurdish militia in control of the region.

The official Syrian news agency SANA said the forces will deploy in Afrin to “bolster” local forces in confronting Turkish “aggression.” This suggested the Syrian government and Kurdish fighters — a militia known as YPG militia — have struck a deal under which the government forces would help repel an ongoing Turkish offensive on the enclave.

The Turkish minister says that “if the regime is entering to protect the YPG, then no one can stop us, stop Turkey or the Turkish soldiers.”


11:25 a.m.

Turkish officials have increased to 786 the number of people detained so far in Turkey for criticizing the country’s military offensive in northern Syria.

Authorities have been cracking down on protests and social media criticisms of its military operation into the Syrian Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin, accusing perpetrators of engaging in “terror propaganda.”

Those detained have included Kurdish politicians and doctors in Turkey who have warned against the operation’s human costs.

Turkey launched its offensive on Jan. 20 to clear Afrin of Syrian Kurdish militia which Turkey considers to be an offshoot of its own outlawed Kurdish rebels fighting within Turkey.

An Interior Ministry statement on Monday says at least 587 incidents of social media “propaganda” and 85 protests had occurred since Jan. 20


11:15 a.m.

Syrian state TV says pro-government forces will begin entering the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin in the country’s northwest “within hours.”

The TV gave no further details about the deployment of the troops, known as “popular forces,” which comes amid reports that an agreement has been reached between the Syrian government and the main Syrian Kurdish militia in control of the area.

The agreement may prompt Turkey to pull out its forces and end a month-long air and ground offensive that aims to oust the Syrian Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, from the border enclave.

The deployment would bring Syrian troops closer to the border with Turkey.

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