Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighter stands near stacked sandbags in Eastern Afrin, Syria, February 13, 2018. Photo: Reuters/Khalil Ashawi

A pro-Syrian government news outlet has reported that the Assad regime’s deputy foreign minister is calling on Arabs to unite with Kurds currently fighting Turkish-backed fighters in the country’s northeast.

“Afrin is an integral party of the Syrian Arab Republic,” Al-Masdar News (AMN) reported deputy minister Fayssal Mikdad as saying Wednesday, citing state media. AMN describes itself as an independent, pro-government news outlet, but has also been described as pro-Assad regime.

The quotes did not reference the Kurds, but the news report’s headline and lead said the official urged a unified front in cooperation with the Kurds to push back on Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch. The military incursion into Kurdish-held territory in northwestern Syria aims to create a buffer zone between Turkey and the Syria.

“We affirm that the Syrian Arab Army defends every inch of the Syrian territory and Syria will return as unified as it has been throughout history,” he added, with respect to Afrin.

AMN reported separately that Kurdish forces were pushed back on Wednesday in a furious offensive by Turkish-led forces that took seven settlements in 12 hours.

But the report adds that the Turkish forces will face an uphill battle:

By these latest gains, the Turkish Army and its Free Syrian Army partner forces are now beginning to move into the mountainous depth of Afrin. Here Kurdish fighters are expected to reinvigorate their defensive efforts and take full advantage of a terrain that highly favors the use of light infantry, hit-and-run attacks and ambushes.

The terrain, as US media reported over the weekend, gives the Kurds a tactical advantage on the ground just as Turkey is said to have lost its advantage in the air. Russia is reportedly restricting access to airspace above the conflict zone after initially looking the other way.

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