Syrian Kurds deny firing rockets at Turkey


Syrian Kurdish forces defending the northwest Syrian area of Afrin against a Turkish air and ground offensive denied they had fired rockets into Turkey that have killed eight people.

Turkey says the People’s Protection Units (YPG) has launched dozens of rockets into Turkey, especially around the border towns of Reyhanli and Kilis, since Turkish troops and their Syrian allies launched their attack on Afrin just over two weeks ago. The cross-border attacks have killed seven civilians and one Turkish soldier, state-run Anadolu news agency said.

“We have not targeted any territory inside Turkey,” Nesrin Abdullah, spokeswoman for the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), told Ahval. “Kilis is geographically far from our frontlines. To carry out such attacks, you must have weapons that have advanced capabilities,” she said. The YPJ is a women-only force that fights alongside the YPG.

Turkey says the YPG is part of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has fought an armed separatist campaign in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey since in 1984. The YPG denies any direct link to the PKK.

Analysts said attacking Turkey was too risky for the YPG/YPJ.

“While it is possible that the YPG has amassed an arsenal of ground to ground missiles capable of hitting Turkish territory, to attack Turkey would be counterproductive,” said Nicholas A. Heras, a Middle East security analyst at the Washington-based Center for a New American Security.

Such attacks, he said, “would advance the Turkish narrative that the YPG is a national security threat to Turkey that is on par with the PKK”.

While Turkey, the European Union and the United States all list the PKK as a terrorist organisation, Washington has backed the YPG in its fight against Islamic State in Syria. That has led to a further increase in tensions between Washington and Ankara.

“The Americans have developed a sort of rubric when it comes to the YPG and Turkey,” said Heras. “When rockets land in Turkey from Syria, then that is the work of the PKK. But the YPG is not the PKK as long as nothing it does crosses the border.”

“So, if the YPG attacks Turkey in Turkey, it's the work of the PKK. If it doesn't attack in Turkey, it's not the PKK. That is why any potential YPG missile attacks on Turkish territory is bad politics for the YPG,” he said.

As Turkey’s military offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters has enters its third week, fighting continues on multiple fronts around Afrin.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a U.S.-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance dominated by YPG, said there had been clashes in and around the Afrin districts of Mabata, Sharra, Bulbul and Jinderes where the Turkish army and its Syrian allies had attempted to seize a number of strategic hills and villages.

“Clashes are taking place in 16 villages on the border and these areas have not been fully controlled by the Turkish army and its allied Syrian rebels,” said Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the SDF.

In contrast to Turkish media reports, Bali said ground fighting had not advanced beyond these areas since the beginning of the Turkish operation on Jan. 20.

“We have the capabilities to fight back the Turkish army and its allies in the Afrin canton, but we won’t attack Turkish territory, especially areas inhabited by civilians,” Bali said.

The all-female YPJ is playing a central role in the ongoing fighting alongside other SDF elements in the Kurdish enclave, local officials said.

“We have gained tremendous fighting experience in this area and this is one of the main reasons why Turkish-led advances have been stopped on many fronts,” said YPJ spokeswoman Abdullah.

Turkish air strikes on Afrin, however, have stopped in the past two days, and this has given some relief to local residents, according to Afrin-based journalist Mohammed Billo, who spoke to Arta radio station on Monday.

Inside the city of Afrin, outraged residents took to the streets on Sunday to protest what they saw as the mutilation of a female Kurdish fighter, Barin Kobani, by pro-Turkish rebels near Afrin. A video of her corpse surrounded by Turkish-backed fighters has appeared online.

“Tens of thousands of people came out today to tell the world that this kind of behaviour is not acceptable,” said Shemdin Efrini, a local reporter who was at the scene.

Meanwhile, the YPJ and YPG said they had killed at least a dozen Syrian rebel fighters.

The protesters in Afrin also demanded the international community force Turkey to stop its attacks against Afrin and other Kurdish-held areas.

Salih Muslim, former leader of the political wing of the YPG and current leading member of the ruling movement in Kurdish-held areas, said that efforts were being made to highlight the humanitarian crisis caused by the assault on Afrin.

“Our representatives are lobbying worldwide to convey the suffering of civilians in Afrin,” he told the Iraqi-based K24 news channel.

The Turkish-led offensive has left dozens of civilians dead and hundreds wounded, local health officials said. Rights groups said more civilians are expected die as the fighting drags on.

“We have so far documented 68 civilian deaths in Afrin,” Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Ahval.

He said some of the civilian victims were killed by Turkish air strikes, others by ground operations.