Turkish forces operating in Syria reportedly shelled two villages on Sunday, coming perilously close to positions held by Russian troops.
Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which is currently in a state of highly elevated tensions with Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
Turkey launched an incursion into Syria named Operation Peace Spring in 2019, intended to neutralize fighters from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Kurdish separatist organization Islamist Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan considers a major national security threat.
Russian forces, on the other hand, are in Syria at the invitation of its dictator, Bashar Assad. Russian intervention helped Assad survive a brutal ten-year civil war and remain in power.
Last week, Russian leader Vladimir Putin reportedly placed Gen. Aleksandr Dvornikov, commander of Russia’s Syrian intervention, in charge of the Ukraine invasion. Thousands of Russian-trained Syrian fighters have reportedly volunteered to fight for Moscow in Ukraine, although international observers say only a small portion of them have made it to the battlefield so far.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) on Sunday reported that Turkish forces shelled civilian areas around the villages of Qobor al-Karajna and Al-Shaikh Ali, forcing many residents to flee the area.
SOHR activists said the Turkish shelling “expanded to positions near the Russian base in Al-Mabaker,” and a Turkish drone flew through the area before targeting a checkpoint manned by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led militia opposed to the Assad regime.
According to the Kurdistan24 news service, an Assyrian fighter aligned with the SDF was killed in the Turkish attack.
“Many Christian villages in Tal Tamir were shelled yesterday, as they were preparing to celebrate Easter,” said a statement from the SDF. More shelling in the area was reported on Monday.
Turkey views virtually all armed Kurdish groups in Syria as allies of the PKK, including militias that partnered with the United States and Europe against the Islamic State, but Turkey is attempting to cultivate a better relationship with the Kurds of Iraq.
To that end, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Prime Minister Masrour Barzani of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Istanbul on Friday. Among the topics they discussed was cooperation in counter-terrorism, which in Turkey’s case means periodically bombing PKK positions along the KRG’s borders.
Barzani’s government has recently blamed the PKK for prompting Turkey’s attacks, to the detriment of all Kurds in the region, and chastised PKK leaders for rejecting the KRG’s authority.
“Hundreds of villages have been evacuated, the people have become homeless. It was the Kurdistan region that was harmed in this process. Therefore the PKK’s aim is to weaken the Kurdistan region,” KRG spokesman Jotiar Adil said in February, even as the Iraqi central government protested Turkey’s attacks on PKK positions.
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