Turkey’s military and its Syrian rebel allies have taken full control of northwest Syria’s Afrin region, a Turkish army source said on Saturday, as aid workers distributed food to people in the area.
Turkish forces and the Syrian fighters swept into the main Afrin town last Sunday after an eight-week campaign to drive out the Kurdish YPG (people’s protection units) militia, which Ankara regards as a terrorist group.
A military source told Reuters the last remaining villages had been seized and control established overnight.
“Control has been completely achieved in the Afrin region and search operations are continuing so that local people can return safely to their houses,” the source said.
State-run Anadolu news agency carried a similar report.
In Afrin, people queued to receive hot food which was being distributed by the Turkish Red Crescent while Turkish soldiers kept security and armored vehicles moved along the streets.
“We are trying to bring back life to normal in the short and medium term here,” said the aid group’s president Kerem Kinik.
“Our mobile kitchens are here, and our crews are in the villages.”
“We want everything to be alright. We want our women and children to come back. They could not come back to their homeland,” said Afrin resident Abdurrahman Nahsen Suleymanoglu.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan rejected criticism of the Afrin campaign in a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday, according to a Turkish presidential source.
Among Turkey’s Western allies, France has been one of the biggest critics of the Turkish military operation, with its foreign minister saying concerns for its border security did not justify the incursion.
Macron expressed “concern” over the offensive, telling Erdogan it was vital that humanitarian aid be allowed to reach the area.
In a statement released by his office on Saturday, the Elysee said during the phone conversation, the French leader had emphasized the “strategic importance of our partnership with Turkey, particularly in the fight against terrorism and in all other regional crises.”
It was important to pay attention to the security interests of Turkey, “our ally within NATO,” Macron said.
At the same time, he reiterated France’s “very clear expression of concern over the launch of the Turkish military intervention in Afrin and the need to allow full access to humanitarian aid to civilian populations.”
And he said “top priority” should be given to the fight against the Islamic State “which is for France a national security issue.”
The Elysee said that Macron called on “all the actors engaged on the ground to respect without any further delay the cessation of hostilities throughout Syria and to build a durable political solution.”
On that basis, Macron, “in agreement with his Turkish counterpart, wished that in-depth and intensive exchanges will continue in the coming days on Syria, and expressed his will to continue the close dialogue with Turkey on the situation off Cyprus and in the Aegean Sea,” the statement said.
According to a Turkish presidential source, Erdogan insisted to Macron that the aim of the operation in Syria was to “avert threats to Turkish national security” and “ensure peace” in the region.