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Turkey denies use of chemicals in Syria's Afrin, says accusations baseless

Reuters , Saturday 17 Feb 2018
syria
Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighters are seen in Northern Afrin countryside, Syria, February 16, 2018. (REUTERS)
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Turkey never used chemical weapons in its operations in Syria, and takes the utmost care of civilians, a Turkish diplomatic source said, after Syrian Kurdish forces and a monitoring group accused it of carrying out a gas attack in Syria's Afrin region.

"These are baseless accusations. Turkey never used chemical weapons. We take utmost care about civilians in Operation Olive Branch," the source said.

Syrian Kurdish forces and a monitoring group said the Turkish military carried out a suspected gas attack that wounded six people in Syria's Afrin region on Friday.

The source also described the accusations of wounding six civilians through a suspected gas attack as "black propaganda".

Turkey launched an air and ground offensive last month on the Afrin region, opening a new front in the multi-sided Syrian war, to target Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.

Birusk Hasaka, a spokesman for the Kurdish YPG militia in Afrin, told Reuters that Turkish bombardment hit a village in the northwest of the region, near the Turkish border. He said it caused six people to suffer breathing problems and other symptoms indicative of a gas attack.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters that Turkish forces and their Syrian insurgent allies hit the village on Friday with shells. The Britain-based war monitoring group said medical sources in Afrin reported that six people in the attack suffered breathing difficulties and dilated pupils, indicating a suspected gas attack.

Syrian state news agency SANA, citing a doctor in a Afrin hospital, said Turkish shelling of the village caused choking in six people.

On Feb. 6, the United Nations called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Syria.

Since the onset of the conflict in 2011, the YPG and its allies have set up three autonomous cantons in the north, including Afrin. Their sphere of influence expanded as they seized territory from Islamic State with U.S. help, though Washington opposes their autonomy plans as does the Syrian government.

U.S. support for Kurdish-led forces in Syria has infuriated Ankara, which views them as a security threat along its frontier. Turkey sees the YPG as terrorists and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has waged a three-decade insurgency on Turkish soil. 

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