Turkey says it is not targeting Syrian Kurds after villages hit

Turkey says it is not targeting Syrian Kurds after villages hit

ANKARA/BEIRUT - Agence France-Presse
Turkey says it is not targeting Syrian Kurds after villages hit

Turkish army tanks hold positions near the border with Syria, in the outskirts of the village of Elbeyi, east of the town of Kilis, in southeaster Turkey, Thursday, July 23, 2015. AP Photo

The Turkish military are not targeting Syrian Kurds after Kurdish forces and a monitoring group said tanks shelled Kurdish-held villages in northern Syria, a Turkish government official said on July 27.

"The ongoing military operation seeks to neutralise imminent threats to Turkey's national security and continues to target ISIS in Syria and the PKK in Iraq," the official told AFP, referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party.
He said the Syrian Kurdish "PYD, along with others, remains outside the scope of the current military effort." 

The Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity, also said: "We are investigating claims that the Turkish military engaged positions held by forces other than ISIS [ISIL]."  

Kurdish forces and a monitoring group claimed Turkish tanks shelled a Kurdish-held village in northern Syria overnight on July 27.

In a statement, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) said Turkish tanks hit its own positions and those of allied Arab rebels in the village of Zur Maghar in Aleppo province.

The “heavy tank fire” wounded four members of the allied rebel force and several villagers, the YPG said.

It said there was a second, later round of shelling against Zur Maghar and another village in the same area.

“Instead of targeting IS [ISIL] terrorist occupied positions, Turkish forces attack our defenders’ positions,” the statement said.

“We urge Turkish leadership to halt this aggression and to follow international guidelines. We are telling the Turkish army to stop shooting at our fighters and their positions.”     

The Turkish fire was also reported by activists and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“A number of shells fired by Turkish tanks fell on the village of Zur Maghar, which is controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units,” the Observatory said.

Zur Maghar lies on the border with Turkey, east of the town of Jarabulus, which is held by ISIL.

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said the incident appeared to be the most serious Turkish targeting of Kurdish-controlled areas in the Syrian conflict.

Activists said there had been cross-border fire before but that the overnight shelling was particularly serious because of the context.

In recent days, Turkey has begun striking ISIL in Syria and arresting the group’s sympathizers at home, but it has also targeted the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), an outlawed Kurdish group with strong links to the YPG in Syria.

Turkey has hit PKK positions in northern Iraq with the heaviest air strikes since August 2011.

“This shelling comes after Turkey declared war on Daesh [ISIL] and a war against the PKK,” Syrian Kurdish activist Mustafa Ebdi said.

“Now, the YPG is facing attacks from [ISIL] and Turkey.”
The YPG has proved Syria’s most effective force against ISIL, but its successes have been eyed with suspicion by Turkey because of its links to the PKK.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Ankara would not target the Democratic Union Party (PYD) as long as “they do not disturb Turkey,” at a dinner with editor-in-chiefs of numerous Turkish newspapers, including Hürriyet Daily News, on July 25 in Istanbul.

“But if they do not disturb Turkey, cut all relations with the Assad regime and cooperate with the opposition forces, they can have a place in the new Syria,” Davutoğlu said.