Turkish Military Says It Has Encircled Syrian Town of Afrin

Turkey's military and its rebel allies have encircled the northern Syrian town of Afrin, the Turkish armed forces said on Tuesday, a substantial advance in Turkey's offensive against Kurdish fighters across its southern border.

The Turkish Armed Forces announced on Tuesday that the Afrin town centre, in northwestern Syria, has been surrounded since Monday as part of the Turkish-led Operation Olive Brach.

Turkish troops and allied Syrian rebels also captured "areas of critical importance" in the surrounding Afrin region, a statement said on March 13.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday that Turkey-U.S. relations was at the point of breakup, stressing that Washington should fulfil its promises.

Ankara, which has been waging the so-called Operation Olive Branch against the US-backed Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militants in flashpoint region since January 20, has said the offensive could extend to Manbij and beyond.

According to the Turkish General Staff, the operation aims to establish security and stability along Turkey's borders and the region as well as to protect Syrians from the oppression and cruelty of terrorists.

The Turkish foreign minister said on Tuesday that Turkey and the United States have reached an agreement on a plan to jointly station Turkish and U.S. forces in Manbij.

Relations between the USA and Turkey have been strained as a result of the operation, with Ankara accusing Washington of leaving pockets of Daesh militants in Syria intact to justify continued cooperation with Kurdish forces in the country.

Cavusoglu revealed that he and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would discuss the issue further when they meet in Washington on March 19.

Syrian TV showed some people arriving at the Wafideen crossing after they left the area with a woman saying that she has been waiting for more than a year to evacuate her sick child.

Meanwhile the Syrian regime is trying to crush Syrian rebel groups in eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of the capital Damascus.

Eastern Ghouta is home to some 400,000 people who are living amid harsh condition because of bombardment and lack of food resulting from a monthslong government siege.

It said the government reached an agreement with rebels in Qadam to evacuate the area recently.

Hamza Bayraqdar, Army of Islam's chief military spokesman, said in a video statement posted online that "our revolutionary ideology does not allow us to sell the blood of the holy warriors who liberated Ghouta".

Bayraqdar says: "we will stay in Ghouta and defend it".

Vanessa Coleman

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