PKK's Syria wing advances on rebels under Russian air cover

Brigades belonging to YPG-led coalition Syrian Democratic Forces clash with Syrian opposition fighters from Fatah Army in northern Aleppo

Photo by: AFP (Archive)
Photo by: AFP (Archive)

Musa, a 25-year-old Kurdish marksman, sits in the rubble of the Syrian town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, on January 30, 2015

At least 20 civilians have been killed amid clashes between a YPG-led coalition and Syrian opposition forces near the Turkish border, as YPG militants continue to capitalise on Russian air strikes in northern Aleppo.

According to a Syrian Civil Defense source speaking to Anadolu Agency, heavy fighting has been taking place in the village of Tanab between Syrian opposition groups and Jaysh al Thuwar, an Arab coalition formed in May with a number of small groups and local brigades previously aligned to the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Jaysh al Thuwar has been cooperating with the YPG under a new coalition called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Afrin and Kobane along the Turkish border, and have in recent days began closing down on the border town of Azez on their way to take the Bab al Salam crossing, which currently serves as a key supply route for the opposition.

Their joint operations come as Russian fighter jets intensify their air strikes on Turkey-backed opposition targets in the area, especially after Turkey shot down a Russian Su-24 fighter jet on Tuesday morning as it was carrying out air strikes on ethnic Turkmen opposition brigades in Syria's coastal Latakia governorate.

Turkish authorities provided evidence that the jet was downed after it violated Turkish airspace for 17 seconds despite being given 10 warnings in five minutes. Turkey also said it was not aware the jet belonged to Russia at the time of the incident.

The Turkish Air Force began intensifying the protection of its territorial airspace by deploying warplanes to patrol the Turkish-Syrian border following Russia’s deployment of state of the art air defense missile systems in Syria as a reaction to the downing of a Russian warplane. A total of 80 Turkish tanks were also deployed to two separate locations along the border.

More clashes were also reported in the village of Keshtar, from which a video published on Youtube emerged, allegedly showing a CIA-backed brigade called Liwa Suqour al Jabal burning SDF flags.

The SDF - which was recently formed with the support of the US to fight DAESH terrorists - includes Jaysh al Thuwar, the Burkan al Firat Operations Center, the Al Sanadid Forces and the Brigade Groups of Al Jazeera, the Assyrian Military Council and the YPG’s female wing the YPJ, but its members largely consist of YPG militants.

However, the YPG-led coalition has also been fighting the Fatah Army, a coalition of opposition groups including Ahrar ul Sham and a number of FSA brigades, which in March took full control of the Idlib governorate from Bashar al Assad’s regime.

According to unconfirmed reports circulating social media, the Fatah Army successfully defended Tanab and Keshtar from falling to the YPG, while efforts to reclaim the village of Maryamin from the YPG are ongoing.

On Thursday, the FSA gave the YPG and Jaysh al Thuwar two days to leave the villages of Maryamin, Anab, Shawaghra, Tanab, Keshtar, Mirash and Qanbriyah.

US-backed groups are found on both sides of the battle, but a statement issued by Aleppo-based opposition group Liwa Ahrar Suriya on Friday accused the YPG-led coalition of cooperating with Russia against opposition forces in the area.

"The PKK is cooperating with Russia against rebels, trying to cut the supply line to Aleppo," the statement said, referring to the group with the name of the militant group’s Turkey-based affiliate. The PKK is recognised as a terrorist group by Turkey, the US, the EU and NATO.

The YPG-led coalition has been taking advantage of the Russian air strikes, moving into opposition-held territories along the Turkish border. Should the region fall to the YPG, they will be able to form a corridor linking Kobane to the east and Afrin to the west, thus taking full control of the Syrian side of the Turkish border.

Jazira, east of Kobane, is also under the control of the YPG, the armed-wing of the PYD.

Turkey previously warned the YPG not to advance west of the Euphrates river, which separates Kobane from Afrin, and has long stated its opposition to the YPG taking control of northern Syria, where they hope to establish their Marxist-Leninist ideology.

Turkey has also called for the establishment of a no-fly zone in the area between Afrin and Kobane for Syrians displaced by the war, which has claimed at least 250,000 lives since it started in March 2011 and forced millions to flee their homes.

TRTWorld and agencies