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EU Criticizes Turkey's Syria Offensive 03/19 06:21

   BEIRUT (AP) -- The European Union's top diplomat criticized Turkey on Monday 
over its military offensive in a northern Syrian town, calling on Ankara to 
ensure that fighting eases in the conflict-torn country.

   The appeal came as looting was widely reported in the town captured a day 
earlier by Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters, according to residents 
and monitors. Meanwhile, Turkey's state-run news agency said 11 people --- 
seven civilians and four Turkish-backed Syrian fighters --- were killed in an 
explosion in a building in Afrin town center as it was being cleared of booby 
traps. Anadolu News agency said the bomb was reportedly left by Syrian Kurdish 

   On Sunday, Turkish troops and Syrian opposition fighters allied with Ankara 
marched into Afrin, nearly two months after Turkey began its offensive on the 
enclave. Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish militia in Afrin a "terrorist" 
group and an extension of its own Kurdish insurgency within Turkey.

   "I am worried about this," Mogherini told reporters in Brussels on Monday, 
in reference to Turkey's offensive in Afrin. She said that international 
efforts in Syria are supposed to be "aiming at de-escalating the military 
activities and not escalating them."

   Turkey views the local Kurdish militia, the People's Defense Units or YPG, 
as a threat to its national security and has vowed to push it out of the 
district and away from its borders. The YPG retreated amid the swift Turkish 
offensive on Afrin's town center, and vowed to start a "new phase" of fighting 
against the Turkish troops and allied fighters.

   Meanwhile, Afrin residents and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for 
Human Rights reported widespread looting and pillaging soon after Turkish 
troops and allied Syrian fighters marched into the town center. The Observatory 
said the pillaging began on Sunday.

   Images have emerged of torched stores, men in uniforms and others in 
civilian clothes walking out of homes with full loads of bales, while others 
were seen driving away with tractors and agriculture supplies.

   A Syrian commander with the Free Syrian Army, which captured the district 
along with Turkish forces, blamed "thieves" for the looting. Moataz Raslan, a 
commander with the FSA, said a unit for protection of property has been formed 
to prevent further theft.

   Thousands of Afrin residents, many of whom had earlier fled from the 
villages near the border with Turkey to the town center, streamed out of Afrin 
before the Turkish troops entered. Lines of vehicles and civilians on foot 
headed toward Syrian government-controlled areas to the south or other 
Kurdish-controlled areas.

   Jiwan Mohamed, a doctor who worked at Afrin hospital, said the news from 
inside Afrin and images of looting were disturbing. The central Afrin hospital 
was bombed before the town center was captured, he said. The doctor said 
learned from contacts with those still inside Afrin that that more buildings 
were being burned.

   Azad Mohamed, an Afrin resident who arrived Sunday in a region in the east 
of Syria after two days on the road, said looting began even before they 
entered the town center, in adjacent villages.

   "If they have not yet stolen my things, they will in an hour," he said. "We 
knew they would only leave the walls."

   Mohamed blamed the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia for failing to help people 
evacuate the town earlier with their belongings.

   Syrian Kurdish officials have said that more than 800 YPG fighters have been 
killed in the 58 days of fighting for Afrin, and estimated that 500 civilians 
were killed. The Observatory puts the number of casualties at over 280 
civilians, adding that more than 1,500 Kurdish fighters have been killed since 
Jan.20. Turkey says it has taken all measures to avoid civilian casualties.  
Turkey says 46 of its soldiers were killed in the offensive.


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