MUNICH (Reuters) – Turkey never used chemical weapons in its operations in Syria, and takes the utmost care of civilians, its foreign minister said, after Syrian Kurdish forces and a monitoring group accused it of carrying out a gas attack in Syria’s Afrin region.
“It’s just a fabricated story. Turkey has never used any kind of chemical weapons,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters at the Munich Security Conference.
Cavusoglu dismissed the reports as propaganda by organizations close to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has waged a three-decade insurgency on Turkish soil.
He said Turkey took the utmost care to protect civilians in the military operation, while the YPG was using civilians as “human shields” in areas under its control.
Syrian Kurdish forces and a monitoring group said the Turkish military carried out a suspected gas attack that wounded six people in Syria’s Afrin region on Friday.
Turkey launched an air and ground offensive last month on the Afrin region, opening a new front in the multi-sided Syrian war, to target Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.
The White House said it was aware of the reports but could not confirm them.
“We judge it is extremely unlikely that Turkish forces used chemical weapons,” a spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council said. “We continue to call for restraint and protection of civilians in Afrin.”
Birusk Hasaka, a spokesman for the Kurdish YPG militia in Afrin, told Reuters that a Turkish bombardment hit a village in the northwest of the region, near the Turkish border. He said it caused six people to suffer breathing problems and other symptoms indicative of a gas attack.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters that Turkish forces and their Syrian insurgent allies hit the village on Friday with shells. The Britain-based war monitoring group said medical sources in Afrin reported that six people in the attack suffered breathing difficulties and dilated pupils, indicating a suspected gas attack.
Syrian state news agency SANA, citing a doctor in a Afrin hospital, said Turkish shelling of the village caused choking in six people.
On Feb. 6, the United Nations called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Syria.
Since the onset of the conflict in 2011, the YPG and its allies have set up three autonomous cantons in the north, including Afrin. Their sphere of influence expanded as they seized territory from Islamic State with U.S. help, though Washington says it opposes their autonomy plans.
U.S. support for Kurdish-led forces in Syria has infuriated Ankara, which views them as a security threat along its frontier. Turkey sees the YPG as terrorists and an extension of the banned PKK.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Peter Graff)