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Turkish media: Russia aiding YPG
drive in north Aleppo

Moscow has allegedly been backing the Syrian Democratic Forces' operations near Turkey's border.

Russian fighter jets. (AFP/Alexander Kots/Komsomolskaya Pravda)

BEIRUT – Media outlets close to the Turkish government have accused Moscow of aiding a purported Kurdish campaign to seize a swathe of territory in northern Syria, a move—which if true—would challenge Turkey’s self-declared “red lines” in the region.

 

The caustic reports come a week after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet that strayed over Turkish territory, after which top officials in Ankara once again began to speak of establishing a “safe zone” north of Aleppo.

 

Syrian activist media outlets, for their part, have also alleged that Moscow was conducting raids in support of pro-Kurdish forces fighting rebel factions near the border town of Aazaz.

 

Sabah—a daily close to the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP)—claimed Monday that Russia was shipping weapons to a Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) training camp in the Kurds’ de-facto autonomous Afrin canton in western Aleppo province.

 

Ankara considers the YPG—which is affiliated to the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey—to be a terrorist organization, and has explicitly warned that it will not allow the militia group to capture more ground in Syrian territory along Turkey’s border after the gains it made there earlier in the year.

 

The report in Sabah was followed by an even more dramatic one in Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, which accused Russia of conducting airstrikes to support the YPG and its allies in the Syrian Democratic Forces, a recently created rebel group that is supported by Washington and spearheaded by Kurdish fighting units.

 

“Russia is providing air support for the PYD, the Syrian affiliate of the terrorist PKK organization, to allow the PYD to establish control over all territory lying between the northern Syrian towns of Aazaz and Jarablus near the border with Turkey,” the Anadolu report alleged.

 

Top Turkish government officials have repeatedly said they want to establish a “safe zone” in the stretch of territory between Aazaz and Jarablus, most of which is currently controlled by ISIS.

 

Turkey has shelled Kurdish units attempting to cross the Euphrates River to conduct raids on ISIS forces stationed around Jarablus. In effect this has enforced a “red line” between the YPG and the east of Ankara’s planned “safe zone.”

 

Last week, a rebel faction in the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces began military operations in the west of the area. However, at the time, the YPG strenuously denied taking part in the fighting.

 

SDF battles factions west of Aazaz

 

On Thursday, the Free Syrian Army-affiliated Jaysh al-Thuwar coalition, which recently joined the US-backed SDF, accused Nusra and the Marea operations room—a collection of other mostly FSA-affiliated factions—of attacking it outside two villages west of Aazaz.

 

“Jaysh al-Thuwar’s forces responded to the centers of those aggressions. The attack shows that there are factions that claim to be revolutionary but in truth serve the enemies of the Syrian revolution,” the group said in a fiery statement Thursday.

 

On Friday morning, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that fighting was still raging between Jaysh al-Thuwar on one side, and Nusra and a collection of rebel brigades on the other around the villages of Al-Malikiya and Mathanat al-Faisal.

 

The monitoring NGO also said that “warplanes” had bombed the Mathanat al-Faisal area, but did not identify which air force conducted the strikes. However, it did report that suspected-Russian jets had hit targets around the Minnegh airbase, which is located only a few kilometers east of the area where Jaysh al-Thuwar and Nusra clashed.

 

Later on Friday, a commander in one of the group’s battling Jaysh al-Thuwar told a pro-opposition outlet that Russian jets had conducted strikes against the forces opposing the YPG ally.

 

Abu Omar told Zaman al-Wasl that he considered this to be “clear and open coordination between Jaysh al-Thuwar’s militias and the Russian invasion.”

 

Jaysh al-Thuwar’s opponents in northern Aleppo have accused the group of fighting on behalf and alongside the YPG, while the coalition insists it is defending itself against “barbaric attacks” perpetrated by Nusra.

 

Fierce fighting between the two sides has continued through Tuesday morning, while activist media outlets have reiterated the claim that Russian airstrikes are backing the pro-Kurdish coalition.

 

Early on Tuesday morning, Qasion News Agency reported that Russian warplanes had launched renewed airstrikes against positions in the area around Mathanat al-Faisal.

 

About one hour later, a citizen journalist from Aleppo claimed that Russia had launched more strikes in the area, in support of Jaysh al-Thuwar and “the PKK,” in reference to the Kurdish YPG troops.

 

“Over 11 raids [were launched] by the Russian Air Force in the area around Mathanat al-Faisal, and the villag[es] of Shawarigha and Al-Malikiya against rebel [positions],” Ibrahim al-Omar reported.

 

“Russia is backing up Jaysh al-Thuwar and the PKK.”

 

After these latest reports appeared on Twitter, they were followed by a flurry of similar posts.

Turkish media claims that Russian jets have been aiding pro-Kurdish fighters in northern Syria. (AFP/Alexander Kots/Komsomolskaya Pravda)

Russia is providing air support for the PYD, the Syrian affiliate of the terrorist PKK organization.