06:38 GMT +3 hours31 July 2016
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Fighters from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) drive a tank in the al-Zohour neighbourhood of northeastern Syrian city of Hasakeh (File)

Syrian Kurds Begin Major Operation Against Jihadists in Key Town of Azaz

© AFP 2016/ DELIL SOULEIMAN
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The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) began a major operation to take the town of Azaz, which had been a transit point for Turkish military aid to Syrian rebels in Aleppo until access was cut off over the past week by Russian and Syrian forces.

While excluded from the Syrian peace talks, the SDF began a massive operation to take the city of Azaz from anti-government forces, a Sputnik Turkiye correspondent in the area reported on Friday.

Although the creation of the SDF was largely brokered by the United States as a negotiated union of Kurdish defense forces (YPG) and moderate factions of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels, the US has abandoned the group due to Turkish pressure. Now with Russian air support, SDF in the Syrian Kurdish exclave of Afrin are moving toward the key rebel town of Azaz, which is dominated by the al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham jihadist groups.

On Thursday, the SDF captured Minnigh Military Airport, previously occupied by al-Nusra, which is only six kilometers away from Azaz.

"The population of Azaz is constantly threatened by attacks from al-Nusra fighters and other terrorist groups. If the people wish it, the Syrian Democratic Forces will conduct an operation to clean Azaz of terrorists," Afrin Canton's Defense Minister Abdo İbrahim told Sputnik Turkiye.

Over the past several years, Afrin, which is being blockaded by both the Rebels and Turkey, was forced to take in many refugees from the Azaz area, as well as the cities al-Bab and Manbij, now held by Daesh.

Refugees arriving in Afrin
© Sputnik/ Hikmet Durgun
Refugees arriving in Afrin

İbrahim confirmed that the Syrian army has been making advances north of Aleppo, having cut broken the city's siege by al-Nusra and cut off the group's main route to Turkey.

"Russian warplanes are currently conducting massive airstrikes on al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham terrorist positions in the Azaz area," İbrahim told Sputnik Turkiye.

It is not clear whether al-Nusra or Ahrar al-Sham would be subject to a ceasefire, as both are widely considered terrorist groups and did not participate in the peace talks.

Afrin canton defense minister Abdo Ibrahim
© Sputnik/ Hikmet Durgun
Afrin canton defense minister Abdo Ibrahim

The Kurds, who were also excluded from the ceasefire talks, have little incentive to abide by it, although they could be pressured for time when it comes to Russian air strikes in a fragmented area, some of which contains factions  subject to the ceasefire. Turkish pressure also plays a role.

"Turkey is pursuing a policy aimed against Rojava [Syrian Kurdistan]. Turkey seeks to present the Kurds as terrorists in the eyes of international public opinion. We completely reject Turkey's accusations . [YPG] units are not a part of the Kurdistan Workers' Party," Afrin's YPG spokesman Fırat Xelil told Sputnik Turkiye.

Although the upcoming ceasefire could impact the consistency of Russian strikes in the area, a Sputnik Turkiye correspondent in the area reported that some 50 tanks have been pledged to the Syrian Democratic Forces as support.

Related:
Airstrikes Alone Are Not Enough to Defeat Terrorists in Syria - Medvedev
Int'l Community Needs to Work With Russia to Revive Syrian Peace Talks
Russian Presence in Syria Makes Parties Fight Against Daesh - Stratfor
Tags:
offensive, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Ahrar al-Sham, Syrian Army, Russian Aerospace Forces, Al-Nusra Front, Afrin, Azaz, Syria
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