Turkey ramps up fight against Kurds in Syria

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Sarah El Deeb and Suzan Fraser

BEIRUT — Turkey es­ca­lated its of­fen­sive Thurs­day against Kur­dish fight­ers in north­ern Syria, pound­ing them with airstrikes and ar­tillery, and com­pli­cat­ing the bat­tle against the Is­lamic State by Ankara and Wash­ing­ton, both NATO al­lies.

In the fight for Aleppo, mean­while, the Syr­ian mil­i­tary used a lull in vi­o­lence to urge res­i­dents and rebels to evac­u­ate the be­sieged op­po­si­tion-held part of the city.

The pause is part of a hu­man­i­tar­ian cease-fire an­nounced by Rus­sia. Rebels have re­jected the of­fer to evac­u­ate, say­ing it wasn’t se­ri­ous.

Clashes were heard at one of the safe cor­ri­dors an­nounced by the Syr­ian mil­i­tary.

“Talk of fight­ers or non­fight­ers leav­ing is de­nied and ground­less,” said Ammar Sakkar, spokesman for Fas­taqim, one of the largest rebel groups op­er­at­ing in Aleppo. “The rebels’ de­ci­sion has not and will not change. It is to be stead­fast.”

Eastern Aleppo, be- sieged by gov­ern­ment troops, has been sub­jected to in­tense and re­lent­less airstrikes by Syr­ian and Rus­sian air­craft in re­cent weeks. Hun­dreds of peo­ple have been killed and neigh­bor­hoods de­stroyed.

Mean­while, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency said as many as 200 mem­bers of the Kur­dish­led forces were killed in Syria’s Aleppo prov­ince by the Turk­ish bombing and shelling.

A se­nior com­man­der with the main Syria Kur­dish mili­tia con­firmed the Turk­ish at­tack on his forces north of Aleppo but dis­puted the ca­su­alty toll, say­ing that no more than 10 fight­ers were killed.

Like in Iraq, where Kur­dish fight­ers are at the fore­front of the of­fen­sive to re­take the city of Mo­sul from the Is­lamic State, Kur­dish forces in Syria have been bat­tling mil­i­tants and made sig­nif­i­cant ter­ri­to­rial gains in Aleppo prov­ince. That has dis­mayed Turkey, which is deal­ing with a home­grown Kur­dish in­sur­gency and try­ing to pre­vent an ex­pan­sion of Kur­dish in­flu­ence in Syria.

“We will not back down,” se­nior Kur­dish com­man­der Mah­moud Barkhadan of the Peo­ple’s Pro­tec­tion Units said from the re­gion.

“We are fight­ing Daesh. Why are they strik­ing at us?” he asked, us­ing the Ara­bic acro­nym for Is­lamic State, also called ISIS.

Barkhadan ac­cused Turkey of aid­ing ISIS mil­i­tants by turn­ing the fight into a Turk­ish-Kur­dish bat­tle.

Turk­ish ar­tillery also hit near Afrin, a Kur­dish en­clave in north­west­ern Syria, he said, adding that his forces have not re­treated but that Turkey’s ac­tions al­lowed ISIS fight­ers to wage a coun­terof­fen­sive.

More than 10 fight­ers were killed and 20 wounded in over 30 aerial at­tacks that be­gan Wed­nes­day night, he said.

The Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said at least 14 Kur­dish fight­ers were killed and four were miss­ing.

The Turk­ish moves threaten a pos­si­ble cam­paign against ISIS in the group’s de facto cap­i­tal of Raqqa in eastern Syria, Il­ham Ahmed, a se­nior Syr­ian Kur­dish of­fi­cial, said.

Kur­dish forces are the main part­ner in such a fight, but Ankara has said it is ready to act with­out Kur­dish par­tic­i­pa­tion.

GE­ORGE OURFALIAN/GETTY-AFP

Smoke rises Thurs­day from an at­tack on a gov­ern­ment-held area in Aleppo, Syria.

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