Turkish airstrikes and artillery ‘kill at least 35 civilians in Syria’

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Turkey’s army and its allies thrust deeper into northern Syria on Sunday, seizing territory controlled by Kurdish-aligned forces on the fifth day of a cross-border campaign that a monitoring group said had killed at least 35 civilians.

Warplanes bombarded northern Syria at dawn on Sunday and artillery pounded what Turkish security sources said were sites held by the Kurdish YPG militia, after the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported fierce overnight fighting.

The UK-based monitor said at least 20 civilians had died in Turkish airstrikes on the village of Jub al-Kousa and a further 15 were killed in an air raid targeting a farm near the village of al-Amarna, which was captured from Kurdish-allied militia on Sunday.

Turkey entered northern Syria on Wednesday, sending soldiers, tanks and other military hardware in support of its Syrian rebel allies and seizing the border town of Jarablus from Isis.

But most fighting so far has appeared to be with rebels aligned to the Kurdish-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a broad grouping that includes the YPG, rather than Isis.

The Turkish government wants to stop Kurdish forces gaining control of an unbroken swath of Syrian territory on its border, which it fears could embolden the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency in Turkey.

It calls its incursion Operation Euphrates Shield and says the YPG has broken a promise to return across the Euphrates River after advancing west this month.

The Turkish-Kurdish fighting adds complexity to the Syrian conflict which erupted five years ago with an uprising against the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, and has since drawn in regional states and world powers.

Any action against Kurdish forces in Syria puts Turkey at odds with the US, its Nato ally. Washington backs the SDF and YPG, seeing them as the most reliable and effective ally in the fight against Isis in Syria.

Turkish officials have openly stated that their goal in Syria is as much about ensuring Kurdish forces do not add to the territory they already control along Turkey’s border, as it is about driving Isis from its strongholds.

Much of the heaviest fighting in Syria this summer has focused on second city Aleppo, which is roughly divided between rebel forces and forces loyal to Assad.

Global powers have been pushing for 48-hour humanitarian ceasefires in the embattled city and the UN Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura, has urged warring parties to announce whether they will commit to a pause in the fighting.

The UN says it has pre-positioned aid to go to the city for some 80,000 people.

Russia, which backs Assad’s forces, has endorsed the proposal. But some rebel groups have rejected the plan unless aid passes through opposition-held areas and the ceasefire applies to other areas of Syria under siege.

Opposition groups have repeatedly called for an end to regime sieges of rebel-held areas, accusing Assad’s government of using starve or surrender tactics.

The last rebel fighters were on Saturday evacuated from the town of Daraya just outside Damascus, under a deal that followed a brutal four-year government siege.

News Source TheGuardianNews

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