A MAN assesses the damage to a building in the Turkish-controlled Syrian city of Al Bab following artillery shelling.—AFP
A MAN assesses the damage to a building in the Turkish-controlled Syrian city of Al Bab following artillery shelling.—AFP

BEIRUT: Turkey said on Wednesday it launched deadly strikes against Kurdish targets in Iraq and Syria, where Kurd forces have been left reeling from the largest attack by the militant Islamic State group in nearly three years.

The raids on Tuesday night targeted shelters, tunnels, caves, ammunition depots, bases and training camps operated by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) which Ankara views as terrorist groups, the Turkish defence ministry said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said the Syria strikes hit a Kurdish-run power station near the town of Al-Malikiyah in Hasakeh province, where a brazen jailbreak attempt by IS jihadists last month sparked days of clashes that have left around 300 people dead.

“At least four people were killed in the strike targeting a power station near Al-Malikiyah,” the Britain-based Observatory said.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the semi-autonomous Kurdish administration’s de facto army, said four of its fighters died in the attack and vowed vengeance against Turkey.

On Wednesday, shelling on the Turkish-held city of Al-Bab in northern Syria killed eight people, including five civilians, according to the Observatory which relies on a network of sources inside Syria.

It didn’t specify who was responsible but Kurdish forces and Syrian regime troops are both deployed in the region.

Turkish forces escalated attacks in northeastern Syria on Wednesday evening, shelling “about 20 villages and sites... in the Hasakeh countryside and north of Raqqa governorate,” the Observatory added later.

It said the attacks targeted residential areas and displaced a large number of people.

In northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, Turkish strikes on Tuesday hit PKK positions in the Makhmur and Sinjar regions, where bombardment caused “human and material losses”, Kurdish authorities said, without specifying a casualty toll.

As part of the attack, which Baghdad condemned, Turkish “military aircraft bombarded six PKK positions in the Karjokh mountains”, which overlook a camp for Kurdish refugees from Turkey, Kurdish counter-terrorism services said in a statement.

A PKK-linked group that oversees management of the camp reported “the death of two combatants and dozens of injuries among camp residents”. In a statement, Iraqi security forces condemned the attack which they called a violation of Iraqi airspace.

It called on Ankara “to put an end to these violations,” and said “Iraq is fully prepared to cooperate (with Ankara) to stabilise the situation on the border.”

Designated as a terrorist group by Ankara and its Western allies, the PKK has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.

The YPG — which forms the backbone of the SDF fighting IS in Syria — is viewed by Ankara as the PKK’s Syria offshoot.

Washington relied heavily on the SDF to defeat IS jihadists who overran large swathes of Syria and neighbouring Iraq in 2014.

The SDF said 40 of its fighters as well as more than 70 prison guards and staff were killed in the week-long IS attack on Ghwayran jail, the group’s largest Syria operation since 2019. The YPG on Twitter accused Turkey of trying “to continue what ISIS started,” using a different acronym for IS. “Everyone has to take action against this attack now,” it said.

The Turkish strike came hours after hundreds of mourners gathered in Al-Malikiyah for mass funerals honouring Kurdish fighters killed in a week of battles with IS jihadists who had attacked the Ghwayran jail on January 20.

Since the start of its military intervention in Syria in 2016, Ankara has sporadically bombed the YPG and carried out military operations targeting IS and Kurdish forces. Turkey also routinely carries out attacks in Iraq, where the PKK has bases and training camps in the Sinjar region and on the mountainous border with Turkey.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has threatened to “clean up” parts of northern Iraq, accuses the PKK of using the border area as a springboard for its insurgency.

In December, Turkey carried out retaliatory air strikes in northern Iraq after three Turkish soldiers died in a PKK attack.

Published in Dawn, February 3rd, 2022

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