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Turkey, US-backed forces
clash in north Syria

A firefight erupted Wednesday night in a village south of Jarablus between fighters affiliated with the Syrian Democratic Forces and rebels taking part in Operation Euphrates Shield.

Turkish-supported rebels prepare to storm Jarablus. (image via RFS media office)

BEIRUT – Rebels taking part in the Turkey-led Operation Euphrates Shield have clashed with fighters affiliated with the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), hours after Ankara said the cross-border incursion into Syria would aim to secure his country’s border from not only ISIS but also Kurdish troops.

 

Although a number of contradictory reports have emerged on the incident, rebel factions that stormed across the Syrian border as well as Kurdish media said that a firefight erupted Wednesday night in the village of Al-Maarna, located eight kilometers south of Jarablus, which Turkish-backed forces seized from ISIS earlier in the day.

 

Both Faylaq al-Sham and the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement claimed that they “liberated” the village—which lies along the western bank of the Euphrates River—from the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), a reference to the SDF that includes a large contingent of Kurdish combatants.

 

However, the ANHA news agency—which is close to the PYD—insisted that fighters from the SDF-backed Manbij Military Council repelled the rebel advance on Al-Maarna.

 

According to its report, the Manbij Military Council combatants fired warning shots at the rebels, who ignored the salvo and continued to move toward the village, after which clashes erupted for a “period.”

 

While the SDF has yet to issue an official statement on the matter, the official Twitter account of the PYD posted a tweet mirroring the ANHA report.

 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also covered the firefight, reporting that SDF troops moved northward from Manbij and seized seven villages, including Al-Maarna, as Turkish-supported rebels staged their offensive on Jarablus further to the north near the Syrian border.

 

Clashes then erupted afterward in Al-Maarna between the two belligerents, according to the monitoring NGO, which added that the exact causes of the firefight remain unknown.

 

The SOHR said that rebels accused SDF forces of seizing Al-Maarna as they themselves were advancing toward it, while the SDF, for its part, accused the rebels of ignoring its warnings and attempting to seize the village that its fighters were already deployed in.

 

Neither the SOHR nor the parties involved in the fighting have reported any casualties in the skirmish, while the status of the village remains unknown amid contradictory reports over who controls it.

 

A number of pro-rebel sites backed rebel claims and said that Turkish-backed factions had seized Al-Maarna, however the activist Aleppo 24 outlet reported Thursday morning that SDF forces were still in control of the village.

 

Wednesday’s battle was the first confrontation between the Syrian rebels participating in Operation Euphrates Shield and the SDF, which Ankara insists must withdraw to the eastern bank of the Euphrates River.

 

The US has backed Turkey’s demand, with Vice President Joe Biden announcing in Ankara that Washington “made it clear to Kurdish forces that they must move back across the river.”

 

“They cannot and will not get American support if they do not keep that commitment. Period,” he added.

 

However, Biden did not clarify if he was just referring to Kurdish elements of the SDF in Manbij and other territory west of the Euphrates, or to the whole of the SDF.

 

On Thursday morning, the spokesperson for the US-led coalition against ISIS said that the SDF “moved east across the Euphrates,” seeming to imply the entirety of the Kurdish-led force had left its positions.

 

At the start of the Manbij operation in early June, the SDF and officials in the military council formed for the campaign stressed that the majority of the coalition’s fighters in the offensive were ethnic Arabs in a bid to reduce tensions.

 

Washington, which supported the military drive with airstrikes as well as Special Forces personnel, also indicated the offensive did not aim to spread YPG control.

 

“After they take Manbij, the agreement is the YPG will not be staying ... So you'll have Syrian Arabs occupying traditional Syrian Arab land,” an unnamed US military official told Reuters.

 

Despite the assurances, rebels as well as Turkey feared that Kurdish forces aim to drive westward from Manbij to connect with their cohorts in the de-facto Afrin canton north of Aleppo, in effect creating a contiguous Kurdish-controlled region stretching east to west across northern Syria.

 

NOW's English news desk editor Albin Szakola (@AlbinSzakola) wrote this report. Amin Nasr translated Arabic-language material. 

Turkish-supported rebels prepare to storm Jarablus. (image via RFS media office)

The SDF militants fired warning shots at rebels, who ignored the salvo and continued to move toward the village, after which clashes erupted for a “period.”