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Turkish forces shell Syrian Kurdish fighters

At least nine more Turkish tanks entered northern Syria in an operation aimed at driving ISIS out of the area around Jarablus

Published: Updated:

The Turkish military shelled a group of Syrian Kurdish fighters south of the town of Jarablus on Thursday, a Turkish security source said, a day after Turkey launched its first US-backed incursion into Syria.

The shelling occurred near Manbij, an area controlled by the US-allied Kurdish militia the People's Protection Units (YPG), after the fighters did not heed a warning from Turkish forces, CNN Turk said. Jarablus lies about 40 km north of Manbij.

President Tayyip Erdogan and senior government officials have made clear the aim of "Operation Euphrates Shield" is as much about stopping the Kurdish YPG militia seizing territory and filling the void left by ISIS as about eliminating the radical Islamist group itself.

At least nine more Turkish tanks entered northern Syria earlier on Thursday as part of an operation aimed at driving ISIS out of the area around Jarablus and preventing Kurdish militia fighters from seizing territory, Reuters witnesses said.

A senior Turkish official said there were now more than 20 Turkish tanks inside Syria and that additional tanks and construction machinery would be sent in as required.

“We need construction machinery to open up roads ... and we may need more in the days ahead. We also have armored personnel carriers that could be used on the Syrian side. We may put them into service as needed,” the official said.

The deployments are part of “Operation Euphrates Shield”, in which Syrian rebels backed by Turkish special forces, tanks and warplanes on Wednesday entered Jarablus, one of ISIS’s last strongholds on the Turkish-Syrian border, in Turkey’s first major US-backed incursion into its southern neighbor.

Kurdish Syrian force withdraws

In an interview with Turkey’s NTV channel on Thursday, Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik said Turkish-backed rebels were “cleansing” Jarablus of ISIS, who had controlled the strategic town.

He also said that the Syrian rebels have taken control of Jarablus from ISIS fighters to prevent Kurdish forces from seizing a new swathe of territory on Turkey’s southern border.

Turkey sees the YPG, the armed wing of the Syrian Kurdish party PYD, as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought a three-decade insurgency in Turkey’s southeast.

On the same day, a spokesman for the US-led coalition against ISIS said on Thursday that the Kurdish-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have withdrawn across the Euphrates river to prepare for “the eventual liberation” of Raqqa, a city held by ISIS.

“The Syrian Democratic Forces have moved east across the Euphrates to prepare for the eventual liberation of Raqqa,” the spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve wrote on his Twitter feed.

The Syrian Kurdish YPG militia also said on Thursday its forces taking part in an operation to capture the city of Manbij from ISIS had returned to their bases after the mission was successfully completed.

Turkey had demanded on Wednesday that the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, a critical part of the SDF, return to the east bank of the river.

Turkish officials said Syrian Kurdish forces have started withdrawing east of the Euphrates River.

The Turkish officials were quoting US Secretary of State John Kerry, who relayed the news in a telephone conversation with his Turkish counterpart.

Russia reiterates concern

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday that Moscow was extremely concerned by the fighting between Syrian Kurdish and government forces in the northeastern city of Hasaka.

She also said that the fighting was playing right into the hands of “terrorists and those who would like to ultimately destroy Syria.”