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Kurdish YPG plans to take Azaz-Jarablus area in Syria

Kurdish-Arab commander warns of 'big possibility of open, fierce confrontation' with Turkey in northern Syria
Fighters from Syriac Military Council (SMC), a small minority of Christians supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces against the Islamic State group, rest in al-Rumaniya, a western Raqqa suburb (AFP)

The Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia aims to "liberate" the area between Azaz and Jarablus held by Turkey-backed Syrian rebels, a YPG commander said in a statement.

Commander Sipan Hemo did not give a timeline or details of plans to take the area, which was seized by the Turkey-backed rebels last autumn from the Islamic State (IS) group, but said he regarded Turkey as an occupying force there.

His comments, in a statement to a Kurdish newspaper, were distributed on a social networking feed by Naser Haj Mansour, a senior official in the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), of which the YPG is a leading component.

Increasing tensions between Turkey and Syrian Kurdish groups led to an exchange of fire between Turkish artillery and YPG targets near Azaz on Tuesday.

Ankara had sent military reinforcements, including troops, vehicles and equipment into the zone between Azaz and Jarablus held by rebels it supports, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and rebel and Kurdish sources said on Wednesday.

The Observatory said the reinforcements were part of preparations by Turkey to attack the YPG-held areas near Azaz.

Turkey regards the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has fought an insurgency inside Turkey for three decades.

It has strongly criticised the United States for arming the YPG as part of efforts to support the SDF in its battle to recapture Raqqa from IS.

Kurdish officials have warned that any Turkish attack on areas held by the SDF or YPG in northern Syria would distract from their offensive to defeat IS in Raqqa.

On Thursday, Turkey’s deputy prime minister, Numan Kurtulmus, said Turkey would retaliate against any cross-border attacks from the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria.

"Once again I am expressing very clearly that Turkey’s sensibilities on the PYD/YPG topic have to be taken into consideration," said Kurtulmus.

"Any harassing fire from this organisation towards Turkey from the Afrin region will get a response within the rules of engagement framework." 

Meanwhile, Haj Mansour said the SDF had decided to confront Turkish forces and warned of a "big possibility of open, fierce confrontation".

There are no verified reports of casualties suffered by either side during these past three days of cross-border exchanges.