October 26, 2016

Turkish army pounds north Syria, monitor says 20 civilians killed

Turkish soldiers on an armoured personnel carrier escort a military convoy on a main road in Karkamis on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern Gaziantep province

A group monitoring the Syrian war said Turkish air strikes and artillery attacks killed at least 20 civilians and wounded dozens more on Sunday, the fifth day of Turkey’s cross-border campaign that it says targets Islamic State and Kurdish forces.

Turkey’s warplanes roared into north Syria at daybreak and its artillery pounded what security sources said were sites held by Kurdish YPG militia, after the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported fierce overnight fighting around villages.

There was no immediate comment from the YPG, but forces aligned to the Kurdish group had said on Saturday that no Kurdish militia were in areas being targeted by Turkish in the cross-border offensive.

Turkey, which has been battling Kurdish insurgents on its own soil, sent soldiers, tanks and other military hardware into Syria on Wednesday in support of its Syrian rebel allies, seizing the Syrian border town of Jarablus from Islamic State.

But Turkish officials have openly stated that their goal in Syria is as much about ensuring Kurdish forces do not extend territory they already control along Turkey’s border, as it is about driving Islamic State from its strongholds.

The Observatory, a Britain-based group, said 20 people were killed and 50 wounded in a battle for the village of Jub al-Kousa fought between Turkey with its allies and Kurdish-backed militias.

The region is controlled by militias aligned to the Kurdish-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a broad grouping which includes the YPG.

The monitoring group said rebels backed by Turkish tanks fought till dawn against rival militias allied to the SDF around al-Amarna, a village near Jarablus, but failed to take it. It said SDF-allied militia damaged three Turkish tanks there.

Turkish security sources said warplanes and artillery had hit Kurdish YPG militia sites near Manbij, a city south of the frontier town of Jarablus that had been captured by Kurdish-aligned SDF this month in a U.S.-backed operation.

A Reuters witness in Karkamis, a town on the Turkish side of the border, heard jets and artillery bomb Syrian targets. The Observatory said Turkish jets hit sites north of Manbij.


Turkey said one of its soldiers was killed on Saturday when a rocket hit a tank that it said came from a YPG-controlled area. Turkish forces had responded with artillery, it said.

It was the first Turkish death reported in Turkey’s campaign. Most fighting so far has appeared to be with rebels aligned to the Kurdish-backed SDF rather than Islamic State.

The Turkish government wants to stop Kurdish forces gaining control of an unbroken swathe of Syrian territory on Turkey’s frontier, which it fears could embolden the Kurdish militant group PKK, which has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey.

Any action against Kurdish forces in Syria puts Turkey at odds with its NATO ally the United States. Washington backs the Kurdish-aligned SDF and YPG, seeing them as the most reliable and effective ally in the fight against Islamic State in Syria.

It adds complexity to the Syrian conflict that erupted five years ago with an uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has since drawn in regional states and world powers.

Turkey has suffered shock waves from the conflict raging in its southern neighbour. Turkey has frequently been targeted in attacks by Islamic State. The government suspects the group was behind a blast at a wedding this month that killed 54 people.

President Tayyip Erdogan is expected to visit the site of that wedding attack in Gaziantep, in southeastern Turkey, to pay his respects to families of the victims later on Sunday.

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