(MENAFN - Arab Times) LONDON, Feb 5, (Agencies): Iran urged Turkey on Monday to stop its military offensive in Syria, saying the operation in the northern Afrin region breached Syrian sovereignty and would increase tension in the war-damaged country. Turkey last month launched an air and ground campaign, dubbed Operation Olive Branch, against the Kurdish YPG militia in Afrin.
'Turkey should stop its operation and respect Syria's sovereignty and territorial integrity,' Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA. 'Turkey's actions can bring back insecurity, instability and terrorism to Syria,' he added.
Qasemi said any solution to the Syrian crisis should be discussed in talks in the Kazakh capital Astana that are sponsored by Russia, Iran, and Turkey. He said Iran was in continuous talks with both Turkey and Russia about the latest developments in Syria. Russia and Iran back Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey supports Assad's opponents. Ankara considers the USbacked YPG, which controls Afrin, to be a terrorist group and an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has fought an insurgency in Turkey's largely Kurdish southeast since 1984. The Syrian government last week called the Turkish offensive in Afrin an illegal 'aggression' and said it would deal with it accordingly. Two more Turkish soldiers were killed Sunday in Turkey's offensive against Kurdish militia inside Syria, the army said, bringing to 16 the number killed so far in the incursion.
The Turkish army and allied Ankara- backed Syrian rebel forces are seeking to oust the YPG from its western border stronghold of Afrin but the operation so far has been marked by fierce clashes. Five Turkish soldiers were also wounded in operations inside Syria on Sunday, the army said in a statement. It did not give further details on the circumstances of the deaths and injuries.
The latest casualties come after seven Turkish troops were killed on Saturday, including five in a tank attack, the heaviest single-day loss of the campaign so far. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday said that 935 'terrorists have been neutralised' so far in the operation. It was not immediately possible to verify this figure. Turkey says the YPG is an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which has waged a threedecade insurgency against the Turkish state. But the YPG has been working closely with the United States to fight the Islamic State extremist group in Syria. The offensive by Washington's fellow NATO member Ankara on a USallied force has even raised fears of a military confrontation between two alliance powers.
A convoy of Turkish troops entered Syria's northwestern province of Idlib on Monday to set up a new 'observation point' aimed at reducing violence under a deal with Russia, the military said. Idlib, which is largely controlled by Islamist rebel forces, lies to the west of the Kurdish-held region of Afrin which is currently the target of a major military operation by the Turkish army. The military said in a statement that the point was the fourth such position within Idlib province set up by the Turkish army in line with peace talks in the Kazakh capital Astana. It is being set up in the Seyh Isa area of Idlib, it said. Those talks — sponsored by Turkey, Iran and Russia — set out the creation of four so-called de-escalation zones in Idlib, the greater Damascus area, the southern region of Daraa and the city of Homs. Idlib is largely controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a group led by al-Qaeda's former Syria affiliate, which ousted more moderate rebels in recent months.