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Turkey Denies Use of Chemicals in Syria's Afrin

Turkey Denies Use of Chemicals in Syria's Afrin

Birusk Hasaka, a spokesman for the Kurdish YPG militia in Afrin, told Reuters that Turkish bombardment hit a village in the northwest of the region, near the Turkish border. Ankara considers the YPG to be an arm of the PKK, a banned group that has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.

Visiting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has met with senior Turkish officials amid rising tensions between the two North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies.

"We have always been clear with Turkey that the weapons provided to the Syrian Democratic Forces would be limited, mission-specific, and provided on an incremental basis to achieve military objectives only", Tillerson said at a press briefing with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. "After the people's protection Units leave it, we together with the United States can take joint steps based on trust", said Cavusoglu.

"We have never given heavy arms to the YPG so there is none to take back", Tillerson said.

Relations have spiraled to a breaking point after the failed coup in Turkey in 2016, when Erdogan accused the US of complicity with coup plotters. "We reached an agreement and an understanding", he said.

On Friday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights released a report accusing Turkish forces of a chemical weapon attack in Afrin. Splitting with them may be harder for the United States than Turkey realizes. In recent months, the struggle has become increasingly internationalised, as the US-Turkish dispute illustrates.

But the sour state of bilateral relations deteriorated even more rapidly in the last month after Turkey launched an offensive against a Kurdish militia backed by the United States in northern Syria.

"The Turkish army possesses aircraft, tanks and missiles, and is using weapons banned by worldwide conventions like napalm and shells laced with chlorine", Reizan Hedu, from the Kurdish Self-Defense Forces, told Russia's RIA Novosti news agency on Saturday.

The army also said it was careful to not harm civilians and only targeted "terrorists" and their positions in the Afrin region.

Since the start of the operation, the PYD/PKK has targeted civilians in Turkey with some 100 cross-border attacks, leading to seven civilian deaths and 125 wounded.

The Kurdish-led groups are also controlling some oil-rich areas on the eastern bank of Euphrates River in northern Syria.

Ties were damaged after the failed coup of 2016 with Turkey stung by a perceived lack of U.S. solidarity and angered by Washington's refusal to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Pennsylvania-based cleric blamed for ordering the putsch.

Meanwhile, Ankara will not backdown on its determination to eliminate what Turkey perceives as a Kurdish threat in northern Syria, as it fears any separatist sentiment could inspire the 14 million Kurds inside Turkey, he noted.

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