Turkey steps up attacks on Kurds near Syria’s Raqqa, seized from ISIS in 2017
Turkey has stepped up an offensive on Kurdish forces in northern Syria this week, according to observers and the Syrian authorities.
Turkish military action is focused near Raqqa, a Syrian city that the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) wrested from Islamic State (ISIS) in a U.S.-backed offensive in 2017.
Residents of the Ain Issa district of the Raqqa region staged a vigil near a Russian military base to protest Russian silence and inaction in the face of an escalating Turkish bombardment, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said. Three civilians were injured in rocket attacks by Turkey, it said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said last month that Turkey was ready to begin another military operation to clear northern Syria of Kurdish militants. He pointed to the existence of what he called terrorist zones in neighbouring Syria, saying unless they are cleared, Turkey would take on the task itself.
Ain Issa is located about 50 kilometres north of Raqqa and 40 kilometres south of the Turkish border.
Turkish rocket attacks also targeted the SDF-controlled village of Sayda in the northern countryside of Ain Issa on Tuesday, the SOHR said.
The SDF declared the liberation of Raqqa from ISIS on Oct. 17, 2017. President Donald Trump has since withdrawn thousands of U.S. troops from northern Syria, beginning in December 2018. President elect Joe Biden has been a vocal supporter of the SDF, the main local military force credited with defeating ISIS, and a Syrian Kurdish push for political autonomy.
The Turkish army and its allied militants hit SDF positions in the Ain Issa countryside on Tuesday and Wednesday, the pro-Syrian government Al Masdar News website reported, citing the Raqqa governate. They also attacked Kurdish milita near the town of Tal Tamr and in the al-Hasakah governate, it said.
Last week, Mazloum Abdi, the commander of the SDF, congratulated Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on their election victory, saying he looked forward to U.S. support in protecting the SDF’s gains against ISIS and building a better future for Syrians.