Dozens of civilians killed in Syria as Turkey bombs Kurds
Dozens of civilians were killed in Turkish air strikes on Kurdish-held areas of Syria yesterday as the West's two main allies in the conflict inched closer to full-blown war.
Some 35 people died in strikes on Jeb el-Kussa and Al-Amarneh, villages close to the Turkish border that are held by pro-Kurdish forces. Turkey claimed that they were "terrorists" from outlawed militias.
The strikes came a day after an attack by Kurdish fighters left one Turkish soldier dead and two injured.
Ankara sent tanks across the border last week to help Syrian rebels drive Isil out of the frontier town of Jarabulus, but Turkish officials have openly stated that their goal is as much about ensuring Kurdish forces do not expand their territory along Turkey's frontier as it is about driving away jihadists.
Operation Euphrates Shield, as the offensive has been named, would split Kurdish territory and prevent Syria's Kurds from creating a federal state - something Turkey has long opposed because of fears that it could embolden Kurdish separatist sentiments at home.
The US has supported Turkey, hoping to gain the involvement of its huge professional military army in the fight against Isil.
However, Ankara has so far focused mostly on targeting Kurdish forces, who have been a reliable ally to the US.
Saif Abu Bakr, the commander of a battalion of Syrian rebels inside Jarabulus, said Turkey planned to take Kurdish-held Manbij and push on to the city of al-Bab, 80km south of the border.
US support for Turkey has left some Syrian Kurds feeling betrayed.
"The Kurds are the most effective force in fighting terrorism, the US needs us," said Idriss Nissan, a political analyst in the northern Syrian town of Kobane.
Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the DC-based Middle East Institute, said: "We're now seeing US-supplied weaponry being used by both sides to fight each other."
The Observatory, a Britain-based monitoring group with a network of sources in Syria, said Turkish-allied forces had seized at least two villages south of Jarablus, Jeb el-Kussa and Al-Amarneh, that were held by militias loyal to the SDF.
The fighting killed 20 civilians in Jeb el-Kussa and 15 in Al-Amarneh, while scores more were wounded, it said.
Turkish-backed rebels said they had seized a string of villages south of Jarablus controlled by SDF-aligned forces and had moved west to take several villages held by Isil.
Turkish security sources said war planes and artillery had hit YPG sites south of Jarablus and towards Manbij, a city that was captured by the SDF this month in a US-backed operation.
Colonel Ahmed Osman, head of the Turkish-aligned Sultan Murad rebel group, said the force was "certainly heading in the direction of Manbij" and hoped to take it.
Ankara 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 PKK militant group that has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey.
One witness in Karkamis, a Turkish border town, heard jets and artillery strikes within Syria. A Turkish official said that heavier air strikes could come within hours.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to devote equal energy to combating both Isil jihadists and the Syrian Kurdish fighters.