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Syria: 'At least 17 dead' in Turkish strikes on border post

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights did not specify whether dead were affiliated with the Damascus government or Kurdish forces as conflict escalates
Turkey-backed Syrian fighters protest against a Turkish proposal for reconciliation between the Syrian government and the opposition, in rebel-held Aleppo province, 12 August 2022 (AFP)

Turkish air strikes on a border post run by Syrian government forces killed 17 fighters on Tuesday, following an overnight flare-up between Ankara's forces and Kurdish fighters that control the area, an activist group has said.

"Seventeen fighters were killed in Turkish air strikes that hit several Syrian regime outposts... near the Turkish border," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

It did not specify if the victims were affiliated with the government or Kurdish forces.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said that "Turkish military aircraft have conducted 12 air strikes against positions of the Syrian army deployed on the border strip west of Kobane," a Kurdish-held town, according to AFP.

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The raids caused "casualties", SDF spokesman Farhad Shami said, without specifying how many.

Syrian government forces have deployed in areas controlled by Kurdish fighters near the border with Turkey as part of agreements intended to stem cross-border offensives by Ankara targeting Kurdish forces it views as terrorists.

Tuesday's raids followed overnight clashes between Ankara's forces and the Kurdish-led SDF west of Kobane, said the Observatory, a Britain-based monitoring group that relies on a network of sources inside Syria.

As part of the escalation, Kurdish forces struck inside Turkish territory, killing one soldier, according to Turkey's defence ministry.

"Thirteen terrorists were neutralised" in retaliatory attacks by Ankara inside Syria, the ministry said, adding operations were ongoing in the region.

Escalation

Turkey has launched a series of cross-border offensives targeting Kurdish forces and the Islamic State (IS) group since 2016, but such operations have rarely resulted in the killing of Syrian government fighters.

If government forces are confirmed to be among those killed on Tuesday, the attack would mark one of the largest escalations since Ankara and Damascus traded attacks in 2020 following a Syrian government strike that killed 33 Turkish soldiers in the northwestern province of Idlib.

Turkey has stepped up its attacks in Kurdish-controlled areas of Syria since a 19 July summit with Iran and Russia failed to green-light a fresh offensive.

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The SDF, the Syrian Kurds' de facto army, has since counted at least 13 of its members killed in several Turkish attacks.

Turkey has fervently opposed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backing rebels opposing his rule, and opening its doors to millions of refugees.

But last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called for reconciliation between the Syrian government and the opposition.

Cavusoglu's comments had been seen as an apparent easing of Ankara's long-standing hostility towards Assad's government and enraged the Syrian opposition and rebel groups.

Diplomatic contacts between the two countries had been severed since 2012 over Assad's mass killings of Syrian protesters and civilians following their uprising against him.

Mass demonstrations erupted in northwestern Syria on Thursday and Friday after Cavusoglu's statement. 

Turkish flags burned

Turkish-backed Syrian rebel forces attacked demonstrators in Jarabulus on Friday, drawing praise from Turkish opposition leader Umit Ozdag, who said the protesters were interfering in Turkey's affairs. Three people were arrested, according to Middle East Eye's sources. 

"We are completely against Turkey's calls, and against any parties in the opposition who want to reconcile with Assad," Bashar al-Hassan, a civilian demonstrating near a Turkish military base in the town of al-Mastumah, south of Idlib, told MEE.

'We are completely against Turkey's calls, and against any parties in the opposition who want to reconcile with Assad'

- Bashar al-Hassan, demonstrator

"We have lost thousands of martyrs, and half of the Syrian people are displaced. We refuse to reconcile with Assad, who bombed us with chemical weapons and warplanes, and killed children.

"We will continue to demand the overthrow of the Syrian regime even to the last day of our lives," he said.

The demonstrators demanded the exit of Turkish troops from Syria, and burned Turkish flags on Thursday night in the city of Azaz, one of Turkey's largest strongholds in northern Syria.

Some 15 civil society groups based in northern Syria issued statements of condemnation, though the Syrian political opposition, which is based in Turkey, praised Turkey's role in supporting the revolution against Assad.

The Turkish-backed Syrian National Army grouping of rebel factions said reconciliation with Assad is a "betrayal" and will lead to "handing the region over to chaos and destruction".