The Latest: Turkey’s Erdogan says he warned Trump over Syria
BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the Syrian conflict (all times local):
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has urged the United States in a telephone conversation with President Donald Trump to halt the supply of weapons to Syrian Kurdish militia.
Erdogan’s office says he told Trump on Wednesday that Turkey’s military offensive into the northwestern enclave of Afrin is aimed to rid it of “terrorist elements” and protect Turkey’s national security. Erdogan also stressed the importance of cooperating against terrorism, according to the statement.
Ties between the two NATO allies have been tense over several issues, including U.S. support to the Syrian Kurdish fighters whom Turkey considers to be “terrorists” because of their alleged links to outlawed Kurdish rebels in Turkey. The Syrian Kurdish militia has been the closest U.S. ally in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria.
Erdogan has vowed to expand Ankara’s operation beyond Afrin and toward the town of Manbij, which would bring Turkish troops and their Syrian allies closer to U.S. forces supporting the Kurds against IS.
President Donald Trump is warning Turkey against taking steps that could risk military conflict between U.S. and Turkish forces in Syria.
Trump spoke by phone on Wednesday to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose military has launched a cross-border operation against the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northern Syria. The White House says Trump expressed concerns about the growing violence and told Erdogan it jeopardizes shared U.S.-Turkish goals in Syria.
The White House says Trump is urging the Turkish leader to limit the operation and avoid civilian casualties.
Trump is also warning the U.S. is concerned about “destructive and false rhetoric coming from Turkey,” but isn’t specifying. He tells Erdogan the U.S. is inviting closer cooperation to address “Turkey’s legitimate security concerns” in Syria.
Turkish officials say two people who were seriously wounded in a rocket attack from across the border in Syria have died of their wounds.
Two rockets fired at the Turkish border town of Kilis on Wednesday hit a mosque and a home, with 13 reported hurt, some seriously.
The Kilis office of Gov. Mehmet Tekinarslan said later that two people died — a Turkish citizen and a Syrian national who were wounded inside the mosque during evening prayers. It says the injured are being treated in hospitals.
The attack came as Turkey’s military pushed forward with an offensive to clear Syrian Kurdish militias it considers to be terrorists from an enclave in northwest Syria.
The state-run Anadolu Agency said the Turkish military responded to the rocket attack by shelling Syrian Kurdish positions in Syria.
A Turkish official says two rockets fired from Syria hit a mosque and a home in a Turkish border town. At least 13 people were hurt.
Gov. Mehmet Tekinarslan says the rockets struck the border town of Kilis on Wednesday during evening prayers. Media reports said they were fired from the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin.
Tekinarslan says eight were wounded inside the mosque, two of them seriously. The second rocket hit a nearby home, where five were hurt.
Turkish TV images showed the rocket that struck the mosque had pierced through its dome. The private NTV station showed people inside the mosque frantically trying to clear the rubble.
It was the latest in a series of rocket attacks against the Turkish border since Ankara launched a military offensive into Afrin to clear it of Syrian Kurdish militiamen whom it considers to be linked with Turkey’s own Kurdish insurgents.
Turkey’s state-run agency says 11 people have been arrested over allegedly engaging in “terror propaganda” through social media postings about Turkey’s military offensive into a Syrian Kurdish enclave.
Anadolu Agency says the group is among some 150 people detained in police operations across Turkey and accused of supporting a U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish militia that Turkey considers to be a terrorist group.
The report says other detainees, suspected of social media posts allegedly supporting the Syrian Kurdish fighters, were still being questioned. The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders criticized the detentions as a “witch hunt against critics.”
Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, an extension of the Kurdish insurgency within its own borders. Ankara last week launched a military operation codenamed Olive Branch to clear YPG fighters from the enclave of Afrin in northern Syria.
A senior U.S. official says Washington is concerned that Turkey’s military offensive in the Syrian-Kurdish enclave could distract from the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria and could be exploited by extremists to re-supply or create safe havens.
The official told a group of reporters on Wednesday that Syrian Kurdish fighters in the enclave of Afrin are not part of the U.S.-supported or trained Syrian Kurdish force that is allied with the United States in the fight against IS.
Commenting on Turkish threats to expand the offensive into the Syrian Kurdish town of Manbij, the official says Washington’s “number one concern is the safety and security troops in the vicinity.”
Addressing Turkish complaints that the United States has not kept to its promises to take back weapons supplied to the Syrian Kurdish fighters, the official said Washington intended to “fulfil the commitment” but would not provide a time frame.
The official says the U.S. continues to be supportive of Turkey’s “legitimate security concerns” and recognize their concern for security along its border.
A second U.S. official denied Turkish government claims the U.S. had delivered thousands of trucks of weapons to the Syrian Kurdish forces, saying the bulk of the supplies went to U.S. forces and also included ammunition, food and humanitarian supplies.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
—Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey;
Some 350 Kurds burned images of the presidents of Turkey and Russia as they marched on the U.S. and Russian embassies in the Cypriot capital Nicosia to protest Turkey’s “invasion” of a Kurdish enclave in northern Syria.
Waving Kurdish flags and those of the Syrian Kurdish militant group YPG, protesters chanted slogans calling Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a “fascist” and “terrorist,” and called on Turkey to “get out of Kurdistan.”
They also denouncing what they said was Russia’s “betrayal” for allowing the military offensive to happen.
Protester Azad Baker told The Associated Press that Wednesday’s march was aimed at urging European nations to use their influence in order to stop the killing of civilians in the Kurdish enclave.
He said Kurds are fighting alone without U.S. help.
Turkey’s president says its incursion into a Kurdish-held enclave in Syria is progressing “successfully” and will continue until the last “terrorist” is eliminated.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday renewed a threat to extend the offensive east to the city of Manbij, which is under the control of U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters. He said he plans to “foil games along our borders starting from Manbij,” adding that “we will clean our region from this trouble completely.”
Erdogan said that Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters have killed at least 268 Syrian Kurdish fighters since the operation against the Afrin enclave was launched on Jan. 20. He said Turkish troops have suffered seven or eight losses.
Ankara views the main Syrian Kurdish militia in northern Syria as a threat because of its links to Kurdish insurgents fighting in southeastern Turkey. The Syrian Kurds are the main U.S. ally against the Islamic State group in Syria, and played a key role in driving the extremists from much of the country’s northeast. The U.S. has urged Turkey, a NATO ally, to exercise restraint.
Syria has dismissed recent reports of chemical attacks in the war-torn country as “lies.”
The United States and 28 other countries are launching a new initiative to better identify and punish anyone who uses chemical weapons, amid new reports of a suspected chemical attack on the rebel-held suburbs of Damascus.
The U.S. says Russia, a key ally of the government, shares blame for the use of chemical weapons in Syria because it vetoed the renewal of an expert body that determined responsibility for such attacks.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that French and U.S. allegations of new chemical attacks were part of the “systematic targeting of Syria.” It blamed Western countries for blocking probes and pressuring investigators after previous chemical attacks.
In 2013, the U.S. and Russia reached an agreement to remove all chemical weapons from Syria. There have been several reported chemical attacks since then.
A top Russian diplomat has accused the United States of promoting unverified reports about chemical weapons attacks in Syria in order to cloud Russia’s peace initiatives.
Russia is hosting Syria peace talks in the Black Sea resort of Sochi next week that some Syrian opposition figures said will run counter to U.N. peace initiatives.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in an interview with the Interfax news agency on Wednesday that the U.S. is promoting “rigged, unverified reports” of the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria to hamper Russia’s peace efforts.
Ryabkov’s remarks came a day after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Moscow “ultimately bears responsibility for the victims” of a new suspected chemical attack outside the Syrian capital Damascus.