General Commander of the YPG calls on Russia to target al-Nusra Front and expand support for anti-IS fighters on the ground
The largest pro-Kurdish group fighting in Syria has said it is ready to co-operate with Moscow, after Russian jets began launching airstrikes in the country.
After Russia began a series of 20 strikes in the north of the country on Wednesday night, the leader of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) called the move “an important step”.
Sipan Hemo, general commander of the YPG, told Russian news agency Sputnik that his fighters want to co-operate with Russia against the forces of Islamic State (IS).
“We can work together with Russia against IS,” Hemo is quoted as saying.
“We want air support against IS. We want weapons support.”
The Russian military launched a series of airstrikes against targets on Syrian soil hours after President Vladimir Putin received permission from his parliament.
Moscow declared that the target of the airstrikes would be Islamic State.
However, the areas that were struck, which include parts of the government stronghold of Latakia and the central province of Homs, are not known for IS activity, with much of Homs instead controlled by the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front.
Syria’s main opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, was quick to criticise the airstrikes, which it said had left at least 36 civilians dead.
Russia hit back at the critics on Thursday, with the Kremlin issuing a statement saying the targets had been on “a known list of terrorist organisations agreed upon with the Syrian army”.
The statement did not specify which groups had been targeted, but stressed that Moscow had been the sole funder of the attacks and received no financial support from Damascus.
Sputnik, a Russian-owned agency supportive of Putin’s government, also reported that a senior Kurdish official had welcomed the strikes, asking for support from Moscow.
“We have asked for help from several countries in the fight against IS,” Idriss Nassan, foreign minister for the Kurdish region of Kobane on the border between Syria and Turkey.
“We want it from Turkey, we want it from Russia, and we want it from the United States,” Nassad said.
“We are ready to co-operate with anyone who fights against IS.”
In his statements to Sputnik, though, Hemo said he would support Russian strikes targeting al-Nusra Front as well as IS.
“Russia should fight not only against IS, but also against al-Nusra. There is no difference between Nusra and IS – they are both al-Qaeda,” Hemo is quoted as saying.
The YPG has deployed in force against IS in northern Syria, enjoying significant success in pushing the militants back from several strategic sites.
The group has also clashed repeatedly with militants from al-Nusra Front, despite being allied to the Free Syrian Army, a loose coalition of anti-Assad fighters that is part of a fragile alliance with al-Nusra Front.