Turkey vows to strike back at PYD fighters in Syria
Turkey will continue to strike back at Kurdish fighters of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday, despite growing pressure on Ankara to stop the shelling.
In telephone talks, Davutoglu told Merkel that Turkey “will not permit the PYD to carry out aggressive acts. Our security forces gave the necessary response and will continue to do so,” his office said in a statement.
Turkish artillery struck at targets of the PYD and its People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia on both days of the weekend, while insisting that it was returning fire under the rules of engagement.
Davutoglu alleged to Merkel that the Syrian Kurdish forces, who Turkey accuses of being the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), had been advancing with Russian air support.
Russia is the key ally of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who Turkey wants to see ousted.
He said the move by the Kurdish fighters was aimed at uprooting “hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians” from the border region and “creating a new humanitarian crisis” that would affect both Turkey and the European Union.
“This is aimed not just at Turkey but also the European Union,” he said, warning of a “new wave of hundreds of thousands of refugees.”
The EU and Turkey, which hosts over 2.5 million Syrian refugees, are already grappling with the crisis that saw around one million migrants cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey to the EU in 2015.
Syrian Kurds reject Turkey’s demands
The PYD party on Sunday also rejected Turkish demands that allied militia withdraw from positions near the border that are being shelled by Turkish army, and warned that Syrians would resist any Turkish intervention in the country.
The news comes after close sources to the Turkish government told Al Arabiya News that Turkey’s shelling against PYD forces killed at least 35 and injured 15 others. The sources also said that the Turkish raids targeted 19 positions mainly in the northwestern city of Aleppo in Syria.
Saleh Muslim, the co-chair of the PYD, told Reuters Turkey had no right to intervene in Syria’s internal affairs, adding that an air base shelled by the Turkish army on Saturday had been in the hands of the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front until forces allied to the PYD captured it last week.
‘Some Turkish forces enter Syria’
Turkish forces were believed to be among 100 gunmen who entered Syria on Saturday accompanied by 12 pick-up trucks mounted with heavy machine guns, in an ongoing supply operation to insurgents fighting Damascus, the Syrian government said Sunday.
“The operation of supplying ammunition and weapons is continuing via the Bab al-Salama crossing to the Syrian area of Azaz,” the Syrian foreign ministry said in a letter to the U.N. Security Council published by state news agency SANA.
It said the pick-up trucks were “accompanied by around 100 gunmen some of whom are believed to be Turkish forces and Turkish mercenaries.”
The same letter also criticized Turkey for shelling areas of northern Syria. Azaz is north of Aleppo near the Turkish border.
France calls on Turkey to stop
France called Sunday for Turkey to immediately halt its bombing of Kurdish forces in Syria.
Echoing an appeal made by the United States on Saturday, France called for “an immediate halt to the bombing, both that of the regime and its allies throughout the country and that of Turkey in the Kurdish zones.”
France’s statement added that the priority should be the fight against ISIS and application of agreements reached by the major powers in Munich on Friday.
The shelling on Saturday came just a day after world powers announced announced an ambitious plan to stop fighting in Syria within a week.
Turkey shelling YPG positions
For a second day Sunday, Turkey shelled positions held by the main Kurdish militia in northern Syria, adding complexity to an inflamed situation in the area where Russian-backed Syrian government forces are also on the march, opposition activists said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group said two fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces – a coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters – have been killed and seven others wounded in the shelling.
There was no immediate confirmation by the group, which is dominated by YPG fighters.
The group has seized a number of villages in the northern province of Aleppo near the Turkish border in recent days, and appears poised to move to the border town of Azaz, an opposition stronghold. That has alarmed Turkey, which considers the group to be an affiliate of the Kurdish PKK movement which it considers to be a terrorist organization.
Opposition groups said Saturday that Turkish troops fired artillery shells that targeted the Mannagh air base in Aleppo province, which was captured by Kurdish fighters and their allies earlier this week.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said late Saturday that his country’s military fired at Kurdish fighters in northern Syria in response to a provocation along the border. He said Turkish forces retaliated against a Kurdish faction “that presented a threat in Azaz and its environs” in line with the country’s rules of engagement.
He accuses YPG of carrying out “harassing actions” along the border.