Pro-regime forces to enter Syria’s Afrin ‘within hours’
BEIRUT (AFP) – Pro-government fighters will enter Syria’s Afrin “within hours” to take a stand against a Turkish-led offensive on the enclave, state media reported on Monday.
AFP correspondents in the area and the Kurdish forces holding Afrin could not immediately confirm any imminent deployment.
“Popular forces will arrive in Afrin within a few hours to support its people’s stand against the Turkish regime’s attack on the area and its people,” state news agency SANA said, citing its correspondent in Aleppo.
The Syrian region of Afrin, which borders Turkey, is held by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) which is facing a month-old assault by Ankara and allied Syrian rebels.
The operation, dubbed “Olive Branch,” has seen Turkey deploy ground troops and pound the Afrin region with air strikes and artillery fire.
Syrian government forces withdrew from Kurdish-majority areas across the country’s north in 2012, paving the way for Kurdish authorities to implement a system of self-rule.
But negotiations have been ongoing for a potential return of government-affiliated forces to the enclave, officials have said.
Heve Mustafa, the co-chair of Afrin’s executive council, told AFP on Sunday that talks on the subject were ongoing.
“These talks are happening on the military level,” she said.
Last week, YPG chief Sipan Hamo told journalists his forces would have “no problem” with Damascus intervening to help repel Turkey’s assault.
“We don’t have a problem with the entry of the Syrian army to defend Afrin and its border in the face of the Turkish occupation,” Hamo said.
State media did not elaborate on the make-up of the “popular forces” due to enter Afrin on Monday and made no mention of regular army troops being deployed.
Damascus has denounced Ankara’s “aggression” but until Monday had not explicitly said it would intervene.