Syrian Free Army, backed by Turkey, claim victory over Kurdish YPG

A general view shows the Kurdish city of Afrin, in Aleppo’s countryside March 18, 2015. REUTERS/Mahmoud Hebbo

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels seized control on Sunday morning of the city of Afrin, the target of a two-month military operation against Kurdish militias in the enclave in Syria. The takeover dealt a blow to Kurdish aspirations for self-administration there and added to Turkey’s growing footprint in the country.

The Syrian rebel forces, which have served as advance troops for the Turkish operation, seemed to have entered the city without a fight, after the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or Y.P.G., withdrew to the surrounding hills. But residents described chaos as fleeing civilians were trapped by artillery and by Turkish airstrikes.

The seizure of Afrin, a mainly Kurdish city near the Turkish border, came as other Syrian rebel groups appeared close to collapse in the besieged enclave of eastern Ghouta, in the suburbs of Damascus. Syrian forces have split the enclave into three parts under a blistering barrage of artillery and airstrikes.

On Sunday, President Bashar al-Assad was photographed visiting troops near the front line.

The Y.P.G. denied that the city had fallen and said that fighting was continuing. But a growing number of witness accounts and social media posts indicated that the Free Syrian Army had entered.

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