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Civilians organise 'human shield' to protect Kurdish Afrin

People in Syria and out have reportedly offered to stand between the YPG and Turkish forces set to storm the city.

People are planning to act as human shields in an effort to protect the Syrian city of Afrin as the Turkish military and its allied forces prepare to capture the Kurdish-controlled urban centre.

Turkey launched its cross-border operation on January 20 saying it needed to eliminate the Kurdish militia known as the People's Protection Units (YPG), which is backed by the United States, but which Turkey describes as a "terrorist" group.

After weeks of fighting, Turkish soldiers and allied Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters are now on the outskirts of the city and poised to enter. A number of towns and villages were taken from the YPG on Sunday by Turkey's military and its allies in the north and south of the Kurdish district.

Vulnerable civilians 

Over the last 48 hours, Afrin city has reportedly been targeted by Turkish air strikes, the water has been cut off, and the internet severed.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday said his forces would be inside Afrin in a matter of days, but for humanitarian reasons they were taking their time to strategize and prevent civilian deaths.

More than one million people are now in Afrin city and villages around it after fleeing the fighting, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor group.

"We're hearing from people inside the city itself that most houses accommodate four to five families with the number of people who have moved because of this offensive into the city," Fisher reported.

Erdogan said on Sunday Turkish troops and allied Syrian rebels were now just four to five kilometres from Afrin.

Turkey's president said so far 950-square kilometres of the district had been captured during the military offensive. The operation was not to "occupy" but "liberate", he said, and then hand over to local residents.

"In the Afrin region, the owners of the lands have started to come back," said Erdogan.

In a statement to the UN Security Council, the Kurdish council that governs Afrin on Sunday demanded a response to the Turkish offensive.

"The international community must support the resistance of Afrin people and break silence towards the invasive attacks," it said, calling on the UNSC to establish a no-fly-zone over Afrin.

'Is this friendship?'

Erdogan also denounced NATO on Sunday, accusing the Western military alliance of failing to back Turkey's campaign.

"Hey NATO, with what has been going on in Syria, when are you going to come and be alongside us?" Erdogan said in remarks to supporters in Bolu, a city east of Istanbul.

"We are constantly harassed by terror groups on our borders. Unfortunately until now there has not been a positive word or voice. Is this friendship? Is this NATO unity? Are we not a NATO member?"

YPG has been a key American ally in the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria and the operation has raised tensions with Washington and European NATO powers.

Ankara views the group as an extension of the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which it and other countries describe as a "terrorist" organisation.

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