The Latest: Russia Eases Sanctions Against Turkey

This frame grab from video released Sunday, March, 18, 2018 by the official Facebook page of the Syrian Presidency, shows Syrian President Bashar Assad driving himself to the newly captured areas of eastern Ghouta, near the capital Damascus, Syria. Assad’s trip, captured in a remarkable set of videos filmed inside the car and published by his office on Sunday, show the president calm and assured as his forces appear close to clinching one of their most significant victories in the country’s seven-year long civil war. (Syrian Presidency Facebook Page via AP) (Associated Press)

BEIRUT — The Latest on the conflict in Syria (all times local):

6:30 p.m.

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s office has released videos showing the president driving himself to visit his forces at the battle for eastern Ghouta, just outside the capital, Damascus.

The videos, released late Sunday and early Monday, show the president calm and assured. Other drivers on the road give no indication of knowing who is behind the wheel of the Honda sedan.

Assad’s forces in eastern Ghouta appear close to clinching one of their most significant victories against rebels in seven years of civil war.

As he drove, he narrated his route to the camera and gave his thoughts on the battle. He said the images of civilians crossing over by the thousands to government authorities in eastern Ghouta showed that his government was still popular with his people and still possessed the “legitimacy” to rule.

Eastern Ghouta has been under a crippling siege and heavy bombardment for weeks, with civilians packing into underground shelters. Some 1,500 civilians have been killed in the last month.


6:15 p.m.

The U.S. State Department says it is “deeply concerned” over the humanitarian situation following Turkey’s capture of the town of Afrin in northern Syria from Kurdish forces.

Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement Monday that the offensive forced the majority of the predominantly Kurdish population of Afrin to evacuate from the town.

She said the U.S. calls on all parties to the conflict to allow humanitarian groups to access the displaced and develop a program for their safe and voluntary return.

Nauert said the fighting in Afrin has distracted from the fight against Islamic State militants, allowing the extremists to begin to reconstitute in some areas.

She said the U.S. is committed to its NATO ally Turkey and its security concerns, and is also committed to the fight against IS with its partners, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

Nauert said U.S. officials have expressed their concern to Turkish officials about the situation in Afrin.


4:15 p.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says that after victory in Syria’s Afrin region, his country will expand its military operations into other Kurdish-held areas in Syria as well as to Iraq’s Sinjar region.

Speaking at a ceremony for judicial appointments in Ankara, Erdogan said troops would target the Syrian city of Manbij, as well as Ayn al-Arab, also known as Kobani, and other towns along the border to the east of the Euphrates River. Those areas are controlled by U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces and U.S. troops are stationed there.

Erdogan said Turkish troops could also cross into Iraq to drive out Kurdish militants from the region of Sinjar, if the Iraqi government is reluctant to oust militants from the area. Turkey says the region is becoming a headquarters for outlawed Kurdish rebels who have been fighting an insurgency in Turkey’s southeast since 1984.

Erdogan said “one night, we could suddenly enter Sinjar.”

He insisted Turkey had no intention of “invading” Syria, saying it was merely clearing the border area of terrorists.


2:05 p.m.

Syria’s Kurdish militia says a British woman who had joined their ranks to fight in the northern town of Afrin has been killed in a Turkish airstrike.

Nisrin Abdullah, spokeswoman of the Kurdish female militia known as YPJ, said on Monday that Anna Campbell was killed last Thursday.

She is the first foreign national to die in the battle for Afrin. She is also the first British female fighter and the eighth Briton to die fighting alongside the Kurdish militia in Syria. The Press Association says Campbell was 26 years old from Lewes, East Sussex.

Macer Gifford, a Briton who travelled with Campbell, said they arrived last May to eastern Syria, where they joined the U.S-backed Kurdish militia to fight against Islamic State militants. Gifford returned home after the fall of the city of Raqqa last summer.

Gifford told The Associated Press via Twitter that Campbell, an animal rights activist, “was a lovely girl. Very opinionated and determined.”

He also says: “She loved the YPJ and the last I saw of her was her leaving to join them.”


1:50 p.m.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag says Turkey does not aim to invade the Syrian town of Afrin and will hand it over to “its real owners.”

Bozdag made the comments on Monday, a day after Turkish troops and Ankara-allied Syrian opposition forces captured Afrin.

The town was taken nearly two month after Turkey launched its offensive to clear Afrin and surrounding districts of a Syrian Kurdish militia that Ankara considers to be a “terrorist” group, allied with Turkey’s outlawed Kurdish rebels.

Bozdag says” ‘’We are not invaders. The aim of our offensive is to clear the region of terror.”

He says the Syrian Kurdish forces retreated from Afrin because “they were afraid ... you see this very clearly when you look at ammunition and weapons that they left behind.”

He says the Kurdish fighters had left booby traps and other explosives inside Afrin.


1:35 p.m.

The European Union has slapped sanctions on a senior Syrian military officer and three scientists accused of links to the development and use of chemical weapons against civilians.

EU headquarters said on Monday that the four work at the Scientific Studies and Research Center, a Syrian government agency the EU says produces chemical weapons and missiles to deliver them.

The center has been under EU sanctions since Dec. 2011.

The move brings to 261 the number of people targeted by an EU travel ban and asset freeze over the crackdown on Syrian civilians and support for the government of President Bashar Assad or associating with certain government officials.

A further 67 entities — often companies, agencies and organizations — have had their assets frozen.


12:40 p.m.

A senior Syrian Kurdish official says Turkey’s offensive on the Syrian town of Afrin is an “occupation” that endangers the rest of northern Syria.

Aldar Khalil, a leading Kurdish official, on Monday condemned Turkey for the assault and for raising the Turkey’s flag in a Syrian town.

He says Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seeking to spread his influence in Syria as a way of restoring the Ottoman empire’s former influence.

He says: “The whole of northern Syria is in danger.”

Turkish troops and Syrian opposition fighters allied with Ankara captured Afrin on Sunday, nearly two months after Turkey began its offensive on the enclave.

Erdogan, who first launched military operations in Syria in 2016, has repeatedly said Turkey will not allow a “terror corridor” along its border and has vowed to push eastward in Syria after Afrin, to prevent the Kurdish militia from linking up territories it controls in eastern and western Syria.


9:50 a.m.

The European Union’s top diplomat is criticizing Turkey over its military offensive in a northern Syrian town and is calling on Ankara to ensure that fighting eases in the conflict-torn country.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini says: “I am worried about this.”

Mogherini told reporters in Brussels on Monday that international efforts in Syria are supposed to be “aiming at de-escalating the military activities and not escalating them.”

She urged Turkey, Russia and Iran to guarantee that conflict “de-escalation zones” are established as promised, to “guarantee that that is what happens on the ground.”

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Sunday the capture of the town of Afrin, previously controlled by the Kurdish militia known as the People’s Defense Units, or YPG.


9:40 a.m.

Turkey’s state-run news agency says a booby trap bomb reportedly left by Syrian Kurdish fighters in the northern Syrian town of Afrin has killed 11 people — seven civilians and four Turkish-backed fighters.

Anadolu Agency says the explosion occurred late on Sunday in a four-story building that Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces were clearing for explosives.

Turkish troops and Syrian opposition fighters allied with Ankara marched into Afrin on Sunday, nearly two months after Turkey began its offensive on the enclave to drive out a Syrian Kurdish militia. Ankara considers the militia an extension of its own insurgency.

Kurdish officials and a war monitor say some pockets of resistance remain in the town of Afrin but the Kurdish militia, known as YPG, has largely withdrawn.


9:20 a.m.

A Syria war monitoring group says Turkish-allied militiamen are looting the northern Syrian town of Afrin after the Turkish military and allied Syrian fighters seized control of it.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday the looting began on Sunday, after the Turkish and allied Syrian forces marched into the town center and raised their flags there — nearly two months after the offensive on the Kurdish enclave started.

The troops faced little resistance from the Kurdish militia, which withdrew, vowing a “new phase” of guerrilla tactics against Turkish troops and their allied fighters.

The Observatory, which monitors Syria’s war through a network of activists on the ground, described extensive looting of shops, homes and cars in Afrin.

It’s unclear what Turkey plans after the capture of Afrin.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Source :