First Published: 2018-02-18

Syria Kurds claim striking positions in Turkey
First time Syrian Democratic Forces, US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, has claimed cross-border attack on Turkish forces.
Middle East Online

Ankara and allied Syrian rebels have waged a nearly month-long offensive on Kurdish forces in northern Syria.

AFRIN - A Kurdish-led alliance in northern Syria said late Saturday it had targeted military positions in Turkey, which is leading an offensive against a Kurdish-controlled enclave.

It was the first time the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, has claimed a cross-border attack on Turkish forces.

No Turkish official was immediately available for comment on the incident.

Ankara and allied Syrian rebels have waged a nearly month-long offensive on Afrin, a northwestern pocket of Syria controlled by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which make up the bulk of the SDF.

Late Saturday, the SDF announced it had carried out "a special operation against a gathering centre for Turkish soldiers" and allied Syrian factions.

It said the position was in Kirikhan, a district in Turkey's Hatay province, and that there were casualties, without specifying what weapons it had used.

"We call on civilians to stay away from positions controlled by the Turkish invaders and... terrorists, as all military positions are legitimate targets for our forces," the statement added.

Turkish media on Saturday reported that two Turkish soldiers and five allied Syrian rebels were wounded when mortar fire hit a police station in Kirikhan.

The SDF has been the US-led coalition's main ground partner in the fight against the Islamic State jihadist group in the east of the country but receives no direct US support for its operations in Afrin.

- A single rock -

Ankara has blacklisted the YPG as a "terrorist" group, saying it is the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency in southeastern Turkey.

Determined to roll back the YPG's presence along its southern border, Turkey has repeatedly bombed positions held by the Kurdish militia and the SDF during Syria's seven-year conflict.

But the assault Ankara and allied Syrian rebels launched against Afrin on January 20 is Turkey's largest operation yet against the Kurdish forces.

Last week, YPG chief Sipan Hamo said his forces had never launched an attack across the border from Syria into Turkey.

"From when we established our forces until today, we have never conducted an operation on Turkish soil and haven't thrown a single rock at it," Hamo told reporters.

The YPG also said Sunday that three of its foreign members were killed in Syria, including two in Afrin.

The Kurdish militia, which was the backbone of the US-backed forces that fought the Islamic State group, named the fighters as French national Olivier Francois Jean Le Clainche, 41, Spanish national Samuel Prada Leon, 25, and Dutch national Sjoerd Heeger, 25.

The YPG said Le Clainche and Leon were killed "in the clashes with the occupiers at the Jandairis front on February 10."

Jandairis lies in a southwestern pocket of the Afrin enclave.

The area, close to Turkey's border, has been fiercely bombarded by Ankara and allied rebels in their nearly month-long assault on the YPG.

The YPG said the two men had joined their forces in the summer of 2017 to fight IS.

"These two comrades gave great efforts for the liberation of the main bases of IS, such as the cities Raqa and Deir Ezzor, and they participated continuously in the war lasting for months," it said.

Heeger was killed fighting IS in Syria's eastern Deir Ezzor province on February 12, the statement added.

Hundreds of foreigners have fought alongside the YPG in Syria.


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