Turkish tanks pound pro-Kurdish fighters in Syria
Karkamis, Turkey // Turkish forces backed by tanks clashed with pro-Kurdish fighters in northern Syria yesterday as Ankara stepped up its four-day offensive to drive both ISIL and Kurdish militia from its border.
The clashes took place eight kilometres south of the town of Jarabulus, the border town recaptured from ISIL this week by Turkish-backed Syrian rebels.
“Turkish tanks advanced today near Al Amarneh in Aleppo province, south of the border, and clashes broke out between them and fighters backed by Kurdish forces,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
The Kurdish-backed rebels said Turkey had carried out air strikes on its positions.
“With this aggression, a new conflict period will begin in the region,” said the Jarabulus Military Council which is linked to the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The army carried out strikes against a weapons arsenal and command post belonging to “terror groups”, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu agency said.
The clashes suggest Turkey is ramping up its offensive inside Syria four days after it launched operation “Euphrates Shield” to counter both ISIL and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia.
On Thursday, Turkey had already shelled Syrian Kurdish targets near Jarabulus in what was seen as a warning to them to retreat.
Six more tanks crossed into Syria on Saturday at the Turkish border village of Karkamis, adding to the dozens of tanks and hundreds of troops already in the country.
Turkey fiercely opposes moves by the YPG to expand into territory lost by ISIL.
Ankara fears the emergence of a contiguous autonomous Kurdish region in Syria would bolster Kurdish rebels across the border in south-eastern Turkey.
Its campaign against the Kurdish fighters puts it at odds with the United States, a Nato ally, but a supporter of the YPG as an effective fighting force against ISIL.
In Syria’s north-west, fighting continued to rage between Syrian government forces and rebels in the battered city of Aleppo, in spite of tentative plans for a 48-hour ceasefire.
At least 15 civilians were killed in barrel bomb attacks by regime aircraft on the rebel-held Maadi district in the city’s east, the Syrian Observatory said.
The UN’s Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura called on the warring parties in Aleppo to state by Sunday whether they will commit to a two-day humanitarian truce to allow in aid after weeks of fierce fighting that has killed hundreds.
He voiced regret that some opposition forces were baulking at the plan, which has been endorsed by Russia, a staunch ally of the Syrian regime.
Russia and the US signalled progress towards a deal on a ceasefire at marathon talks in Geneva on Friday.
“Today I can say that we achieved clarity on the path forward” for a revamped cessation of hostilities, US Secretary of State John Kerry said.
His Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov added that “very important steps” had been made on a deal to stop the violence.
Russia, a staunch ally of Assad’s regime, has been backing government forces with air strikes on rebel-held areas.
The US supports Syria’s main opposition alliance and some other rebel factions.
Turkey’s offensive in Syria adds yet another layer to the tangled web of powers jockeying for influence in the country.
Ankara says that the Kurdish YPG militia has failed to stick to a promise to return across the Euphrates river after advancing west this month.
On Saturday, Turkish-backed rebels continued clean-up operations in the town of Jarabulus which they wrested from ISIL on Wednesday without significant resistance.
Anadolu agency said the rebels were destroying mines planted by ISIL.