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Turkey shells Kurdish and IS group positions in Syria

Bulent Kilic, AFP | Turkish tanks positioned near the Syrian border.

The Turkish army has shelled Kurdish as well as Islamic State (IS) group positions in northern Syria, Turkish media reports said Tuesday, in a bid to open up a corridor for a major rebel assault.

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In a double-pronged approach, Turkish artillery shells on Tuesday hit positions held by the Kurdish YPG militants in the northern Syrian town of Manbij while continuing to target areas held by the IS group in Jarablus, according to local media reports.

Kurdish media reported heavy artillery shelling in the Manbij area, which was seized by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – an alliance of Kurdish, Arab and other fighters – from IS group control earlier this month.

The Turkish military fired in retaliation after three rocket shells came from the border town of Kilis, according to media reports. Earlier on Tuesday, Turkey launched artillery shells from Karkamis, which faces Jarablus across the Turkey-Syria border. The shelling came hours after mortar shells from Syria hit Karkamis, according to Turkish broadcaster NTV.

The enemy of Turkey’s enemy is not a friend

Turkey’s fight against Kurdish groups linked to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as well as the IS group has added another layer of complexity to the Syrian conflict. Turkey regards the PKK and its Syrian allies as terrorist entities; the United States similarly considers the PKK a terrorist organisation. But the US and other Western nations also view Kurdish groups as the most effective fighters in the ground war against IS jihadists.

“Regarding the Jarablus offensive, there’s simply no doubt – [the Turks] do not want Kurdish forces to take over that city. They know that the Syrian Kurds have been carving out what is a blueprint for a state in northern Syria, and for Ankara that is unacceptable. They want their own rebels in Syria to get in there first and make sure they do that at all costs. And if they can do that while taking a shot at IS as well, they’ll be happy. But the main strategic goal, really, is to stop the advance of the Kurdish forces,” said Tom Stevenson, reporting for FRANCE 24 from Istanbul.

Tom Stevenson reporting from Istanbul

Turkey is keen to stop the Syrian Kurds who have carved out territory east of the Euphrates River from gaining any more ground, according to experts. Ankara has been preparing for a major assault by Turkish-backed rebel groups into northern Syria, with around 1,500 rebels believed to be in the Turkish border city of Gaziantep waiting for the assault, the BBC reported Tuesday.

Abdulkadir Selvi, a senior columnist for the Turkish daily Hurriyet, told the AFP on Tuesday that the Turkish-backed offensive on Jarablus “could begin at any moment".

The latest Turkish shelling in northern Syria followed Sunday’s suicide bombing of a Kurdish wedding in the southeastern Turkish city of Gaziantep, which killed more than 50 people. Turkey says the IS group was responsible for the attack although Turkish officials have since backtracked on earlier claims that the suicide bomber was a child.

The attack on the Gaziantep wedding party is widely seen as a warning by the IS group to Turkey ahead of the planned assault on Jarablus. Gaziantep, a bustling southeastern Turkish city near the Syrian border, is known to have several IS group sleeper cells.

Turkish leaders have since vowed to “completely cleanse” the country’s border areas of any IS group presence, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accusing the Syria-based jihadist group of trying to exploit ethnic tensions in Turkey.

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