Turkish attack on Assad convoy risks flashpoint – FT

Turkey’s shelling of a convoy of fighters loyal to President Bashar Assad on Tuesday risks another international flashpoint in Syria’s civil war, the Financial Times said.

The domestic conflict in Syria is becoming overshadowed by dangerous international power plays, such as the shooting down of an Israeli jet earlier this month that was attacking an Iranian target. Possible further clashes between Turkey and Assad-backed forces now adds another dimension to an already crowded battlefield, the FT reported.

Turkey bombed the convoy as it entered Afrin to join Kurdish fighters in defending the area against a Turkish incursion. While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said what he called terrorists were forced to retreat, witnesses on the ground in Afrin city reported that pro-Assad militants had arrived.

Assad and the Kurds hold the most territory after seven years of war in Syria. While the two sides have an uneasy relationship, they maintain economic co-operation.

The pro-government forces that entered Afrin appeared to be Shia militias backed by Iran, according to analysts, the FT said. This could suggest that an agreement was done with the supervision of Iran, not Russia, Assad’s main backer, it added.

While Turkey wants Assad deposed, Russia said this week that the Afrin crisis could be solved by direct dialogue between Ankara and Damascus.

Analysts warn that a siege of Afrin city, as promised by Erdoğan this week, could further undermine international support for the Turkish offensive, the FT said. The region is home to about one million people, including civilians displaced from other areas of Syria.