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Erdogan meets Pope Francis amid fears over Turkey’s Syria offensive

The Turkish President has met the Pope at the Vatican amid growing concerns about his military offensive in Syria.

The Italian authorities put a ban on all but a small authorised demonstration near the Vatican as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan used his trip to Italy to demand full EU membership.

Pope Francis welcomes Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan during a private audience at the Vatican
Pope Francis said the meeting was ‘cordial’

In an interview given to an Italian newspaper before even landing in Rome, the Turkish leader said his country was key in stemming the flow of immigrants into Europe.

He has successfully linked the issue of his own country’s border security to that of Europe’s too – insisting his military needs to create a safe buffer zone between Turkey and those in Syria who he deems as terrorists – the Kurdish YPG.

Pictures obtained by Sky News from cameramen inside Afrin showed tens of thousands of people marching through the streets in open defiance of the Turkish military offensive.

The Turkish authorities have vowed tough retaliation following the destruction of a Turkish tank in northern Syria on Saturday which killed five soldiers.

:: Deadliest day for Turkish soldiers in Afrin operation in Syria
:: Sky crew comes under fire as it joins Turkish battle on Syria frontline

Those deaths, plus the killing of a further two Turkish soldiers that day, made it the single highest toll since the start of the Turkish action in late January.

On the front line in Turkey’s controversial attack on US-backed Kurds

And there are thousands and thousands of civilians caught between the battling groups in Afrin. Many of them have taken to sheltering from the bombs and air strikes in underground bunkers carved out of rock.

Mr Erdogan insists they’re being used as human shields.

The Kurdish group’s effectiveness on the battlefield is pitting two NATO allies against each other.

We saw crate loads of weapons arriving on the front line in Raqqa when we were there last year. They were being used by the mainly Kurdish fighters battling to oust IS militants in a US-led offensive. Weapons Turkey says were supplied by America and which are now being used by the Kurds against them in cross-border attacks.

And it is not the only place in Syria where weapons brought in from outside are being used to devastating effect.

In Idlib, the jihadist group known as HTS shot down a Russian fighter jet for the first time, using a surface to air missile, also known as a Man-pad.

A Russian fighter plane was brought down by Islamist militants over Syria

Pilot ejects from shot down jet

The pilot was seen ejecting but Russia claims he was killed in the fighting that followed.

They say they have special forces on the ground gathering information on who supplied the missile.

Turkey has been repeatedly accused of fostering closer ties with HTS and its army is meant to be nominally present in the area.

This incident is not going to help the fragile Turkish-Russian relationship.

Caught up in this mess are the civilians, powerless yet stuck in an increasingly complex battlefield with a range of key players – many pulling the strings and the triggers from outside.

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