The EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini asked Turkey on Monday to stop its military action in Syria after Turkish forces shelled positions held by a U.S.-backed Kurdish militia over the weekend.
Mogherini said that “only a few days ago, all of us including Turkey, sitting around the table decided steps to de-escalate and have a cessation of hostilities.”
She said more fighting “is obviously not what we expect.”
Syria’s main Kurdish faction, the People’s Protection Units, has been most effective in combating the Islamic State group, but Turkey appears uneasy over the group’s recent gains.
Turkey shelled positions held by a U.S.-backed Kurdish militia in northern Syria for a second day on Sunday, drawing condemnation from the Syrian government, whose forces are advancing against insurgents in the same area under the cover of Russian airstrikes.
Turkish troops have shelled areas under the control of Syria’s main Kurdish faction, the People’s Protection Units, known as YPG, in the past. The group has been most effective in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria, but Ankara appears increasingly uneasy over the group’s recent gains in the country’s north.
“Turkey has responded in this manner in the past,” said Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan. “What is different is not that Turkey has responded in such a way but the fact that there are different movements in the region. The YPG crossing west of the Euphrates is Turkey’s red line.”
The YPG is the main fighting force of Syrian Kurds and a key ally of the U.S.-led coalition battling the Islamic State group. Turkey, which is also in the alliance, considers it an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged a decades-long insurgency against Ankara.
A coalition of Kurdish-led Syrian fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces recently seized a number of villages near Turkey’s border. Ankara appears concerned they could reach the opposition stronghold of Azaz, which is home to a major border crossing that has been controlled by militants since 2012.
Diplomats from a group of countries that have interests in Syria’s five-year civil war, including the U.S., Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran, agreed on Friday to seek a temporary “cessation of hostilities” within a week. But the fighting on the ground, which has sent tens of thousands of people fleeing toward the Turkish border where they continue to sleep in the open air, has accelerated.
Opposition groups said Saturday that Turkish troops fired artillery shells that targeted the Mannagh air base in Aleppo province, which was captured by Kurdish fighters and their allies earlier this week.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said late Saturday that his country’s military fired at Kurdish fighters in northern Syria in response to a provocation along the border.
The Syrian government condemned Turkey’s shelling of Syrian territory, describing it as an attempt to raise the morale of “terrorist” groups it supports.
France meanwhile called on Syria and Russia to halt their airstrikes and for Turkey to stop shelling Kurdish areas. In a statement, it expressed concern about the “deteriorating situation in Aleppo and northern Syria.”
Also on Sunday, Iran’s air defense chief said his country is ready to help defend Syria’s airspace, marking the first time Iran has offered to assist with Syrian air defenses.
Iran is a close ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad and has sent weapons, money and military advisers to Syria to help bolster his forces.
Esmaili’s remarks came after Turkey and Saudi Arabia — leading supporters of the rebels battling to topple Assad — said they were open to sending ground troops into Syria to battle the Islamic State group. Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, also said Saturday that Saudi Arabia is “ready to send both jets and troops” to Turkey’s Incirlik air base. (with AP, Reuters)