Turkish officials and media say Turkish police and paramilitary special forces have crossed the border into a Syrian Kurdish-held enclave, signaling preparations for a possible offensive to capture the enclave’s main city, Afrin.
The state-run Anadolu Agency reported the special forces crossed from the Turkish border provinces of Kilis and Hatay on Monday.
Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said the deployment comes as the operation moves from rural regions of the enclave toward residential areas.
He said it’s “in preparation of a new combat.”
Turkey launched an incursion into Afrin on Jan. 20 to drive out a U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia it considers to be a “terrorist” group, allied with its own Kurdish insurgents fighting within Turkey’s borders.
A U.N. Security Council resolution adopted over the weekend calls for a cease-fire across all of Syria but Turkey maintains that since fighting “terrorists” such as Islamic State militants and al-Qaida is exempt from the resolution, Ankara is free to pursue its offensive against the Kurdish “terrorists.”
The U.N. human rights chief has expressed caution about whether a cease-fire across Syria that was sought by the Security Council will hold, noting that “airstrikes continue over” Damascus’ rebel-held suburbs.
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein spoke on Monday at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, echoing calls for a “full implementation” of the truce sought in a U.N. resolution that passed unanimously over the weekend.
Zeid says that “however, we have every reason to remain cautious” and decried “seven years of failure to stop the violence, seven years of unremitting and frightful mass killing” in Syria.
The Jordanian prince is not seeking a new five-year term when his current one ends in August.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says it’s “high time to stop this hell on Earth” in Syria’s embattled eastern Ghouta region.
Guterres also appealed on the warring sides to abide by a 30-day cease-fire called for by the U.N. Security Council. He spoke at the start of a session Monday of the U.N.-backed Human Rights Council.
The remarks were Guterres’ first to a U.N. body since the 15-member council unanimously adopted a resolution demanding a 30-day truce across Syria over the weekend.
Guterres says he welcomes the resolution but added that council resolutions “are only meaningful if they are effectively implemented.”
He says he expects the “resolution to be immediately implemented and sustained.” Guterres also called for safe, unimpeded and sustained delivery of humanitarian aid and services, and evacuations of the sick and wounded.
A Syrian monitoring group and paramedics say that despite the U.N. cease-fire resolution, new bombardment of the rebel-held suburbs east of Damascus killed 10 people as airstrikes and bombing resumed.
Syrian state TV broadcast live footage showing the Harasta suburb being pounded by airstrikes and artillery.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the opposition’s Syrian Civil Defense, also known as White Helmets, said nine died in an airstrike shortly after midnight on the suburb of Douma and one person was killed in Harasta on Monday morning.
The new deaths bring to 24 the two-day death toll in eastern Ghouta, on the edge of Damascus, despite U.N. Security Council’s unanimous approval on Saturday of a resolution demanding a 30-day cease-fire across Syria. On Sunday, 14 people were killed.