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Kurdish Militia: Anti-PKK Turkish Airstrikes in Syria ‘Provocative and Hostile’

Tensions between Turkey and the Kurds continue to escalate as Kurdish militia groups who have been fighting ISIS in Syria complained of coming under fire from Turkish forces. Notably, these are Kurdish militia units not direct affiliated with the PKK—the Kurdish separatists classified as terrorists by Turkey and subjected to airstrikes by American-made Turkish F-16 jets after several recent instances of violence.

“Kurdish militia fighting Islamic State in Syria accused Turkey on Saturday of targeting it at least four times in the past week, calling the attacks provocative and hostile,” Reuters reports. “The campaign has raised suspicions among Kurds that Ankara’s real agenda is checking Kurdish territorial ambitions rather than fighting Islamic State.”

Reuters notes that the units coming under attack are YPG, the militia serving as front line opposition to ISIS, not the PKK. The Turks suggested their forces were returning fire against Kurdish units that had engaged them. “If they fire at us, we fire back. We are not in a position to ask for identification in such a situation,” said a senior Turkish official, who also took pains to note that the YPG is “affiliated” with the PKK.

The president of Iraqi Kurdistan claimed there had been civilian casualties when Turkey bombed the village of Zargala, going so far as to describe the civilian dead as “martyrs.”

The Turkish foreign ministry said it attacked the village because “senior PKK members” were present, and believed there were no civilians in the area at the time of the attack. The Turkish government appears to have conceded the strong possibility of civilian casualties after these initial denials, declaring itself “saddened” by the reports and promising to work with Kurdistan Regional Government to investigate the incident.

The foreign ministry also sought to shift responsibility for these casualties onto the PKK, declaring “it is a fact that the terrorist organisation unfortunately uses civilians as human shields.”

For their part, Kurdish PKK militants launched a suicide attack in eastern Turkey on Saturday night, driving a tractor full of explosives into a Turkish military outpost on the Iranian border. Two soldiers were reportedly killed, and 31 more wounded, four of them seriously. Another PKK attack on a Turkish patrol killed one soldier and wounded seven others.

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