Turkey again shelled Kurdish militia in Syria yesterday despite calls from Washington for an end to the strikes, as tensions mounted just days before a ceasefire deal is meant to take
The shelling targeted Kurdish forces who have been advancing in Aleppo province in a bid to seize ground ahead of the proposed ceasefire, put forward by world powers last week.
Saudi Arabia meanwhile said it had deployed warplanes to a Turkish airbase, after Ankara said it was mulling ground operations in Syria with Saudi troops.
The Kurdish advances and Turkish attacks, which Ankara said targeted Kurdish Democratic Union (PYD) targets, threatened to undermine efforts to implement the ceasefire, which diplomats agreed in Munich on Friday should begin within a week.
The Turkish shelling, which began on Saturday, reportedly targeted the Minnigh airbase – recently taken from Islamist rebels by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-Arab militia – and nearby villages.
Turkey’s state-run Anatolia news agency yesterday reported the army struck Kurdish targets around the Syrian town of Azaz using howitzers stationed on the Turkish side of the border, in response to incoming fire.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said heavy shelling overnight focused on the airport and nearby town of Deir Jamal. At least two SDF fighters were killed and seven wounded, said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
Ankara said it was targeting forces loyal to the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), whose armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), is a key component of the SDF.
The US military is working closely with Kurdish forces in the fight against Islamic State in northern Syria but Turkey considers the PYD and YPG to be branches of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.
The PKK is recognised by the United States as a terror group but not the YPG or PYD.
The upsurge in violence triggered alarm in Washington, with the State Department urging Ankara to halt the strikes and Kurdish forces to stand down.
Saudi Arabia and Turkey have long supported Syria’s rebels and see Bashar al-Assad’s overthrow as essential for ending Syria’s five-year civil war, which has left more 260,000 dead and forced millions from their homes.
Both countries have also been outraged by Russia’s military intervention in Syria, which Moscow says is targeting “terrorists” but critics say aims to prop up the Assad regime.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir yesterday said Russia’s efforts to support Assad would not succeed: “[Assad] has sought the help of Russia, which will fail to save him.”