Syrian rebels advance on Kurds as Turkish strikes kill 35

The deaths—mostly of civilians—comes as NATO ally Turkey pushes back against U.S.-backed proxy fighting ISIS


BEIRUT—Turkey-backed Syrian rebels seized a number of villages and towns from Kurdish-led forces in northern Syria on Sunday amid Turkish airstrikes and shelling that killed at least 35 people, mostly civilians, according to rebels and a monitoring group.

Turkey sent tanks across the border to help Syrian rebels drive the Islamic State group out of the frontier town of Jarablus last week in a dramatic escalation of its involvement in the Syrian civil war.

The operation, labeled Euphrates Shield, is also aimed at pushing back U.S.-allied Kurdish forces. The fighting pits a NATO ally against a U.S.-backed proxy that is the most effective ground force battling IS in Syria.

Turkey’s military said its warplanes killed 25 Kurdish “terrorists” and destroyed five buildings used by the fighters in response to attacks on advancing Turkish-backed rebels in the Jarablus area.

A Turkish soldier was killed by a Kurdish rocket attack late Saturday, the first such fatality in the offensive, now in its fifth day.

Various factions of the Turkey-backed Syrian rebels said Sunday they had seized at least four villages and one town from Kurdish-led forces south of Jarablus. One of the villages to change hands was Amarneh, where clashes had been fiercest. Rebels posted pictures from inside the village.

Ankara is deeply suspicious of the Syrian Kurdish militia that dominates the U.S.-backed Syria Democratic Forces, viewing it as an extension of the Kurdish insurgency raging in southeastern Turkey. Turkish leaders have vowed to drive both IS and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, away from the border.

MORE: How the YPG are beating back Islamic State

The SDF crossed the Euphrates River and drove IS out of Manbij, a key supply hub just south of Jarablus, earlier this month. Both Turkey and the United States have ordered the YPG to withdraw to the east bank of the river. YPG leaders say they have, but their units play an advisory role to the SDF and it is not clear if any of their forces remain west of the Euphrates.

Turkey is part of the U.S.-led coalition fighting IS, but the airstrikes that began Saturday marked the first time it has targeted Kurdish-led forces in Syria.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the bombing killed at least 20 civilians and four Kurdish-led fighters in Beir Khoussa, a village about 15 kilometres south of Jarablus, and another 15 in a village to the west.

ANHA, the news agency of the Kurdish semi-autonomous areas, said Beir Khoussa has “reportedly lost all its residents.”

SDF spokesman Shervan Darwish said the airstrikes and shelling started overnight and continued Sunday along the front line, killing many civilians in Beir Khoussa and nearby areas. He said the bombing also targeted Amarneh village. He said 50 Turkish tanks were taking part in the offensive.

Syrian state news agency SANA reported that 20 civilians were killed and 50 wounded in Turkish artillery shelling and airstrikes, calling it Turkish “encroachment” on Syrian sovereignty under the pretext of fighting IS. Turkey is a leading backer of the rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad. But both Ankara and Damascus share concerns over Kurdish ambitions for autonomy.

An Associated Press reporter in the Turkish border town of Karkamis spotted at least three Turkish jets flying into Syria amid heavy Turkish shelling from inside Syrian territory on Sunday morning.

Also Sunday, government warplanes renewed their air campaign against the besieged neighbourhood of al-Waer in the central city of Homs. An activist in the neighbourhood Bebars al-Talawy said at least a dozen airstrikes were launched Sunday, killing one person.

The neighbourhood came under a gruelling airstrike campaign a day earlier, including incendiary bombs that left two children, a brother and sister, badly charred. Images of other children shaking as doctors tried to treat them for the burns were posted on social media sites. The district’s hospital was bombed and made non-operational earlier this month.

Human Rights Watch announced recently that it had documented the use of incendiary weapons, which burn their victims and start fires, in at least 18 different instances between June and August in rebel-held areas. The group blamed the Russian and Syrian joint military operations room for the use of such weapons in violation of international law.

The neighbourhood, home to nearly 75,000 people, has been under siege since March and has been one area that U.N agencies have reported difficult to access. An aid convoy reached the area on Aug.25.

According to local residents, the escalation follows recent threats by soldiers at checkpoints that the government’s patience was running out with the district, the last rebel holdout in the city.

It also comes after the evacuation of Daraya, a Damascus suburb, following a deal struck with the government after a grueling bombing campaign and a tight siege.

The Homs Local Council appealed to the U.N. envoy to Syria to negotiate a truce for al-Waer, condemning the government’s “siege policy” that aims to force residents and local fighters to surrender.


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Syrian rebels advance on Kurds as Turkish strikes kill 35

  1. My brain is overwhelmed. Just who is fighting whom?

    • It’s quite simple actually. The Syrian Kurds are being supported to fight ISIS, but really just want an independent Kurdistan, some of which happens to be inside Turkey at the moment. The Iraqi Kurds want the same thing, but are supported by Turkey so they don’t make any alliances with the Syrian Kurds, Turkey did have a reasonable peace process going with the Turkish Kurds but Erdogan tossed that because he wanted to get reelected. Turkey also knows some of the Syrian Kurdish commanders have said they will head north to fight Turkey once the war with ISIS is over. Turkey seems to have decided that it would be better to fight in Turkey than Syria, which is a silly choice because they are fighting insurgents that won’t care where Turkey wants to fight. Turkey is a NATO ally because they control the Bosphorus, which effectively keeps the Russian navy out of the way, except they have a base in Syria, so Russia is supporting the Syrian government, as it Hezbollah,because Iran supports Hezbollah and they’re hinging that support on Hezbollah supporting the Syrian government. The Jordanians are trying secure their boarder by supporting a rebel faction, forgot the name they’re using this week, and that are being trained by British SAS. The Israelis are doing basically the same thing with some rebels along the Golan Heights. The Free Syrian Army, which appears to mostly be manned by ethnic Turks – which may or may not be from Syria, are trying to do the same thing for Turkey. The rebels around Aleppo had to ask the terrorists around Aleppo for help, to break the siege, so the terrorists disavowed their link to terrorism, so they’re okay now. An Iraqi cleric, supported by Iran, has marshalled quite a force in support of the Iraqi government to retake various Iraqi cities but when things started going bad in Syria, some of them were sent there. So, now there’s a bunch of Iranian paid mercenaries helping Hezbollah, which are basically Iranian paid mercenaries, help the Syrian government. Russian is also now making nice with Turkey, so Turkish warplanes are now bombing Kurds in Syria… but Putin has a history of lying and is also know for holding a grudge, so we can expect the Turks to get cut off from air support when they need it the most. Canada said it was going to bomb somebody in Syria, but I don’t think they got around to much of it before we decided to change governments. Then there’s ISIS, which is an offshoot of… Okay, it’s not simple.

    • Brother killing Brother over some 2000 year old feud.

  2. This is great news. We’ll soon be able to judge which foreigners are better at training locals. Will the Turkish trained Arabs be better than the Canadian trained Kurds? Will the currently US Army trained Shia Arabs forces be better than the Sunni militias who have joined IS and were originally trained by the USMC? Will Iranian trained Shia militias turn out the best (or worst depending on your views of ethnic cleansing)?

    It’s time to wrap up the CF mission. We have no business wasting hundreds of millions of dollars enabling homicidal lunatics in the Middle East.

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