Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on the US to withdraw its troops from the Syrian town of Manbij and renewed a threat to expand his country’s military operation to the region held by US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters.
Mr Erdogan said Manbij was a predominantly Arab town and that Turkey would return the territory to its “real owners”.
Turkey launched a cross-border offensive into the north-western enclave of Afrin to drive out Syrian Kurdish militia in January and has also vowed to clear Manbij of the Kurdish fighters, which make up the backbone of a force that fought Islamic State in Syria. The US has a military presence in Manbij.
Ties between Nato allies Turkey and the US are tense over the group, which Ankara regards as a national security threat because of its links to outlawed Kurdish rebels fighting inside Turkey. “Why are you staying there (in Manbij)? Leave,” Mr Erdogan said. “We will come to return the lands to their real owners.”
US secretary of state Rex Tillerson is expected to visit Turkey next week, according to Turkish officials.
Amid mounting chaos in Syria over a multi-faceted conflict involving armies and insurgents from around the world, the UN has urged an immediate, month-long ceasefire in order to deliver critical humanitarian aid and medical care to around 700,000 civilians trapped by fighting.
The UN mission in Syria warned of “dire consequences” to the compounded humanitarian crises in the country, outlining seven areas requiring urgent humanitarian relief. The conflict began with an uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime, but also includes the Turkish operations against Syrian-Kurdish forces and US and Russian-backed fighting against Islamic State.
Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of the Afrin as the Turkish offensive enters its third week. Organisers said hundreds of buses carrying Syrians from the country’s north-east and some members of the Yazidi minority from Iraq had travelled to Afrin to join demonstrations.
Syrian rescuers and activists said at least three people were killed, including a child, when rockets from a Kurdish enclave hit a camp for displaced people near the Turkish border. The Syrian Civil Defence said the shelling in Atmeh wounded another 14 people, mostly women and children.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the shells were lobbed from the neighbouring Afrin enclave. Meanwhile, Russian officials said they have repatriated the body of a fighter pilot whose jet was shot down over a rebel-held area in northern Syria.
Roman Filipov, the pilot of the Su-25 jet, died after he engaged in a gun battle with militants on the ground before blowing himself up with a hand grenade in the Idlib province.
In separate developments, UN-mandated investigators are probing reports that bombs allegedly containing weaponised chlorine have been used on two recent occasions in the town of Saraqeb, in Idlib province, and Douma, in the Eastern Ghouta region near Damascus.