Turkish tanks and attack aircraft have clashed with Kurdish-led forces in northern Syria, just hours after hopes were raised about a new general ceasefire in the war-torn country.
Fighters aligned with the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led alliance that is supported by the United States, engaged Turkish forces including tanks and Ankara-backed Syrian rebels south of the border town of Jarablus on Saturday afternoon.
Nour el-din el-Zinki, an Ankara-backed rebel group, said they captured a village and took two Kurdish prisoners during the clashes.
Earlier Turkish airforce jets bombed what Ankara described as an ammunition dump and command centre for “terror groups,” on the fourth day of an intervention designed to clear Islamic State from border areas and contain Kurdish expansion.
The Jarablus Military Council group, which is allied to the SDF, said a Turkish air strike in the village of al-Amarna caused civilian casualties and called it “a dangerous escalation that threatens the fate of the region”.
The SDF leadership was not immediately available for comment.
Turkish forces and allied Syrian rebels entered Syria and seized Jarablus from Isil on Wednesday, in an operation dubbed Euphrates Shield.
Turkey appears to have rapidly expanded its forces there since, with local media reporting 50 tanks and 380 personnel inside Syria after three days of operations. Correspondents witnessed at least six more tanks cross the border on Saturday.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, has made clear that the offensive is also aimed at reversing recent Kurdish territorial gains and has demanded the SDF withdraw east of the Euphrates river.
SDF units crossed the Euphrates in a US-backed operation to liberate the Isil stronghold of Manbij last month.
The SDF, which is dominated by the YPG, a Syrian Kurdish militia, has been lauded by both Russia and the West as one of the most effective forces fighting the Islamic State, and has received extensive US support.
Turkey considers the YPG a branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a group that has fought a three decade insurgency against the Turkish state, and is determined to prevent the group establishing an autonomous region in northern Syria. The PKK has stepped up attacks inside Turkey in recent months.
The US has struggled to balance its alliance with the Syrian Kurds and Turkey, a key Nato ally.
However Joe Biden, the US vice president, appeared to take the Turkish side on Wednesday, when he warned the SDF could lose all American support if its forces did not honour what he said was a commitment to withdraw eastwards.
The clashes in Syria’s north came just a day after US and Russian diplomats said they had taken key steps towards a renewed ceasefire in Syria.
John Kerry, the US secretary of state, and Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said they had achieved clarity on the path forward after 12 hour talks in Geneva on Friday, but declined to announce details for a cessation of hostilities.
Me Kerry said the “vast majority” of technical obstacles to a ceasefire had been agreed but that some issues remained unresolved.
“Neither of us is (ready) to make an announcement that is predicated by failure – we don’t want to have a deal for the sake of a deal,” Mr Kerry said.
Russia and the United States are trying to hammer out an agreement on combining military efforts against the Islamic State group, achieving a 48-hour ceasefire in Aleppo, and restarting stalled UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva.
The talks come amid a rapidly changing situation on the ground, including the Turkish intervention in the north and a looming humanitarian crisis in many besieged towns and cities.
The UN on Friday described the lack of humanitarian access to Syria’s besieged areas as “wholly unacceptable”, saying just one aid convoy had completed deliveries this month.
Of particular concern is Syria’s second city of Aleppo, where up to 300,000 civilians are believed to be trapped amid an increasingly ferocious battle between rebel groups a government forces backed by Russian airstrikes.
Staffan de Mistura, the UN’s envoy on Syria, has demanded warring sides agree a 48 hour ceasefire around the city to allow humanitarian supplies to reach civilians.
“The Special Envoy calls for all concerned to exert every effort so that, by this Sunday, 28 August 2016, we know where we stand,” Mr de Mistura said in a statement on Saturday.
The Russian ministry of defence last week said it would agree to a two-day humanitarian pause, but no date for a ceasefire has yet been announced.
At least fifteen civilians were killed when regime forces dropped barrel bombs on Aleppo on Saturday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group, said.
Footage posted online showed rescuers carrying dust-covered bodies, including those of children.
Meanwhile, the first group of rebels and their families evacuated from the Syrian town of Daraya after four years of government siege reached opposition-held territory on Saturday.
At least five buses carrying fighters and their families arrived in the rebel-held city of Idlib in the northwest, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The arrivals were the first since the evacuation of the town just outside Damascus began on Friday under an agreement between the government and the rebels.
Civilian residents of the town, believed to number around 8,000, are also being evacuated. They are being taken to government-run reception centres pending resettlement elsewhere.
Mr Kerry said in Geneva that the Syrian regime had “forced the surrender” of Daraya in contravention of a February cessation of hostilities agreement, but Mr Lavrov said the local accord was an “example” that should be “replicated”.
The Russian foreign minister said another besieged area was “interested in such an operation with mediation of the Russian Federation.” He did not name the area.
News Source TelegraphNews