Syrian Rebels, Backed by Turkey, Seize Control of Afrin


In recent days, doctors in Ghouta have described desperate scenes as families trying to flee were bombarded by government warplanes, drones and artillery, leaving the wounded — including women and children — lying in the street and cut off from medical care.

In Afrin, too, tens of thousands of civilians have fled in recent days, as Turkish troops encircled the city but left a corridor open to the south.

A unit of the rebel force, which comprises several groups that fight under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, posted video of its fighters strolling through the empty streets between deserted high rises. “The Syrian National Army inside Afrin city,” one of them says to the camera.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey announced the takeover of the city in a speech at a commemoration ceremony in Gallipoli on Sunday morning, hailing the Turkish and Syrian soldiers who had accomplished the takeover as heroes.

“This morning at 8.30 a.m., Afrin city center was completely taken under control by F.S.A. members, who are supported by our Turkish military,” he said. “The majority of terrorists had already escaped, their tails between their legs.” Turkish special forces were assisting in clearing mines and weaponry left behind, he added.

The operation was a turnabout for the Syrian fighters, who had originally taken up arms to fight their government and are now fighting Syrian Kurds who had sought a measure of autonomy in Syria. Turkey, one of the main backers of Syrian rebels, has shifted its focus to preventing the Y.P.G., which it considers a terrorist organization, from establishing a foothold along its border. It has enlisted rebels, including some displaced from their homes by the Y.P.G.

The events have fueled fierce controversy among Syrian opposition activists, with some saying that Syrian rebels were working for Turkey against other Syrians. Even some members of the Turkish-backed rebel force expressed ambivalence, with one fighter saying on the eve of the battle that the revolution had gone off course.

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