Turkey continues assault on Syria Kurds

Kurdish forces recapture the Menagh air base - 11 February 2016Image copyright

Image caption

The Menagh air base was captured by Kurdish fighters last week

A Turkish assault on positions claimed by Kurdish fighters in northern Syria has continued into a second day.

On Saturday, Turkey began shelling the militia, which it says is linked to the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The YPG militia, which is based in Syria, has rejected a demand by Turkey to leave areas it has seized, saying Islamists would return if it left.

Turkey’s assault is a new thread in an already-complex conflict that has drawn in competing regional powers.

On Thursday, world leaders agreed to work towards a so-called cessation of hostilities in Syria within a week.

The US and Russian presidents agreed in a “frank and business-like” phone call to work more closely to achieve this, the Kremlin said on Sunday.

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Among the targets shelled by Turkey is the Menagh airbase, which was seized by the YPG on Thursday from Syrian Islamist rebels. The YPG controls much of Syria’s northern border with Turkey.

Speaking on Turkish TV on Saturday, PM Ahmet Davutoglu warned that Turkey would retaliate if the YPG did not leave the airbase, which lies south of the town of Azaz and near the Turkish border.

On Sunday, Saleh Muslim, the co-chair of the YPG, told Reuters that jihadists would soon return to the area if Kurdish fighters were driven out.

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Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency said Turkish forces shot at YPG fighters inside Syria on Sunday after coming under fire themselves.

Ankara sees the group as being linked with Kurdish guerrillas from PKK, which has waged a campaign against security forces in Turkey for decades.

In other developments:

  • Saudi Arabia confirms its jets, which are taking part in sorties against the so-called Islamic State (IS), will be stationed at the Incirlik air base in Turkey
  • The confirmation comes a day after Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said troops from his country and Saudi Arabia could participate in a ground operation against IS forces
  • A senior Iranian commander, Brig Gen Masoud Jazayeri, tells his country’s media that Iran, the Syrian government’s ally, would react if Saudi Arabia deployed ground forces
  • Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir says any attempts by countries to prop up the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are destined to fail.

World powers have agreed a tentative deal to try to bring about a cessation of hostilities and allow more access for humanitarian aid.

Under the plan, efforts will be made to try to make urgent aid deliveries to besieged and hard-to-reach areas in Syria. Steps will also be taken to work towards an eventual ceasefire and implementation of a UN-backed plan for political transition in Syria.

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The halt would not apply to the battle against the jihadists of IS and al-Nusra Front.

However, neither the Syrian government nor the rebels were involved in the deal and both have since vowed to continue fighting.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Friday that he intended to retake “the whole country” from rebels – a statement the US government said was “deluded”.

Syrian government forces, backed by Russian air strikes, have almost encircled rebels in parts of the northern city of Aleppo.

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