Thursday 30 March 2017

Turks are shelling us - not Isil, claim Kurdish fighters

A Syrian man comforts a wounded child at at a make-shift medical centre in Douma on the northeastern outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus yesterday.
A Syrian man comforts a wounded child at at a make-shift medical centre in Douma on the northeastern outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus yesterday.

Nabih Bulos in Beirut

Turkish tanks opened fire on Syrian Kurdish militia fighters stationed near the border, it was claimed - just hours after the US and Turkey agreed to work together to forge a "safe zone" for anti-Isil rebels along the same frontier.

Kurdish People's Defence Units (YPG) militia leaders yesterday accused the Turkish army of shelling their positions in the village of Zormikhar with seven tank rounds on Sunday night. The attack, if confirmed, appears to be a wide campaign targeting organisations linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The village is located less than two miles from the Turkish border and the city of Jarablus, which is controlled by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).

The statement added that this was the second such attack. Last Friday, "heavy tank fire" from Turkish units killed four fighters from the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the bloc of Western-supported Syrian rebel fighters pitted against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Separately, a YPG vehicle was also hit in the village of Til Findire, west of the town of Tel Abyad, which was overrun last June in a joint operation by YPG and FSA fighters that pushed out Isil's militants.

The operation denied Isil access to Tel Abyad, one of its main supply routes from Turkey to al-Raqqa, 90km to the south and the group's defacto capital in Syria. "Instead of targeting IS [Isil] terrorists' occupied positions, Turkish forces attack our defenders' positions," continued the statement.

"This is not the right attitude... We are telling the Turkish army to stop shooting at our fighters and their positions."

Idriss Nassan, the deputy head of foreign affairs for the Kurdish Kobane administration in Syria, confirmed the attacks in a phone interview yesterday, which he described as an attempt by Turkey to prevent "the progress of a self-governing Kurdish area."

"The truth is that the Turkish authorities' fears have been raised by the possibility of the establishment of a Kurdish self-governed area in Syria."

The report was confirmed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition monitor based in the UK but with a network of activists on the ground in Syria.

The Turkish government did not issue an official statement on the incidents, but an unnamed Turkish official denied the Turkish military was targeting Syrian Kurdish forces.

"We are investigating claims that the Turkish military engaged positions held by forces other than Isis [Isil]," he said.

Tensions

The attacks come as part of a wider campaign by Turkey targeting the PKK, following an Isil bombing last week that targeted a group of Kurdish and Turkish Socialist activists near the Syrian border.

The bombing, which killed 32 and wounded more than 100, escalated tensions and the days that followed saw a wave of retaliatory bombings and killings against Turkish units across the country.

The government blamed the attacks on Kurdish militants with the PKK, which Ankara considers to be a terrorist organisation.

On Saturday, F-16 fighter jets struck PKK training camps in northern Iraq, ending a two-year ceasefire that was supposed to be a prelude to a wider settlement.

Strikes were renewed on Sunday, this time striking the northern Iraqi town of Hakurk.

The Turkish government cracked down on PKK elements on Turkish territory, rounding up hundreds of people it suspected of having links with the Kurdish militant group as well as those associated with Isil.

It also called for a meeting with Nato leaders today to discuss developments.

Irish Independent

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