Rocket fire from Syria into Turkish border town kills 1

AP , Wednesday 31 Jan 2018

Rockets fired from northern Syria into a Turkish border town killed a teenage girl and wounded another person on Wednesday, Turkey's state-run news agency reported amid Ankara's intensifying offensive on a Syrian Kurdish-controlled enclave.

It was the latest in a string of rocket attacks on the border towns of Reyhanli and Kilis since Jan. 20, when Turkey's military launched a cross-border operation to drive out the Syrian Kurdish militia from the northern enclave of Afrin. Ankara considers the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, an extension of the outlawed Kurdish rebels fighting an insurgency inside Turkey.

Turkey's Anadolu Agency said Syrian Kurdish fighters in Afrin fired two rockets Wednesday, hitting a house and a garden wall in Reyhanli.

Two people were hospitalized after the attack and one, 17-year-old Fatma Avlar, died from her wounds, the agency said. The attacks inside Turkey have so far killed four people, including Avlar. Two of the victims were Syrian refugees.

The Kurdish militia, meanwhile, accused Turkey of firing Katyusha rockets into Afrin, and reported that at least 12 people were wounded from the shelling that targeted the neighborhood of Ashrafieh. The wounded were brought to Afrin hospital.

As Turkey's military operation in Syria continues, officials in the U.S.-led international coalition against the Islamic State group have warned the offensive could destabilize recent gains against IS along the Iraq-Syria border in the Euphrates River valley.

The top U.S. general in Iraq said Tuesday, after a visit to a coalition outpost near the Iraq-Syrian border town of Qaim, that he is "very much concerned" the fight in Afrin could remove pressure on pockets of IS fighters in other parts of Syria.

"I don't want our partner to be distracted," said U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Paul Funk, referring to the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia fighting IS in Syria. "It's a continual fight (against IS) certainly on the Syrian side."

Iraqi forces declared victory over IS in December, but since the Afrin offensive began, Iraq's border guard has reported increased IS activity and attacks along their border with Syria.

If the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces get deeply entangled in the fighting in Afrin, that could "pull Syrian Democratic Forces out of this area," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Brandon Payne who is stationed in western Iraq, not far from the Syrian border.

Such a scenario "essentially takes the focus off ISIS and gives ISIS manoeuvre space. We don't want to do that," he added, using an alternative acronym for IS.

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron warned Turkey against a full-scale invasion of Afrin and appealed on his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to respect Syria's sovereignty.

In an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro, Macron said that Turkey must coordinate with allies, and that its operation inside Syria must be limited to fighting terror. Macron added he would talk to Erdogan in the coming days to tell him that the military offensive against Afrin should involve talks "between Europeans, and more widely between allies, because it changes the nature of this Turkish incursion."

"If it turned out that this operation had to take another turn than an action to fight against a potential terror threat at the Turkish border, and that it was an invasion operation, at that moment, this operation would pose a real problem for us," Macron said.

Turkey swiftly responded to Macron's remarks, with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim saying the French president has a "flawed understanding" of Turkey's cross-border offensive in northwest Syria.

"The whole world knows and should know that Turkey does not operate with the mentality of an invader," Yildirim said, speaking at a joint news conference with visiting Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

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