BELGRADE – The Syrian government has confirmed that its army positions were targeted by Turkish shelling on Saturday, which also hit the positions of the Syrian Kurdish militias in the northern Aleppo province. Turkish shelling reportedly continued Sunday.
The Syrian government has condemned the Turkish shelling of Syrian territory and described it as direct support for “terrorist” groups, Syrian state media reported Sunday, citing a letter to the United Nations.
“Turkish artillery shelled Syrian territory, targeting Syrian Kurdish positions and the positions of the Syrian Arab Army,” SANA news agency reported citing the letter.
Damascus sent the letter in response to Saturday’s Turkish shelling of areas north of Aleppo recently captured by a Kurdish-backed alliance.
“The shelling of Syrian territory by the Turkish artillery amounts to direct support of terrorist groups by Turkey and is an act of aggression against the Syrian people,” SANA reported.
The Turkish military launched artillery strikes in response to the military offensive conducted by the Syrian Arab Army in the northern part of Aleppo province, according to the government’s letter to the UN. The shelling is “an attempt to increase the morale of armed terrorist groupings, who are being defeated,” the letter added.
In the letter the Syrian government condemned statements by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu as “blatant interference” in Syrian affairs.
Turkish military sources told Anadolu Agency that the shelling was continuing Sunday and several positions of YPG – the military wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union (PYD) – have been destroyed. The militias reportedly suffered a number of casualties, the sources added.
The US has called on its NATO ally Turkey to cease artillery fire against Kurdish positions in Syria’s territory, referring to Saturday’s shelling. The US State Department pointed out the two sides have to join forces to combat Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).
“We are concerned about the situation north of Aleppo and are working to deescalate tensions on all sides,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement Saturday. “We have also seen reports of artillery fire from the Turkish side of the border and urged Turkey to cease such fire,” he said.
Kirby also stressed that Washington does not regard the Syrian Kurds as terrorists. The comment prompted anger in Ankara, where the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military wing, the YPG, are seen as affiliates of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Earlier last week, Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned the US ambassador John Bass on Tuesday, expressing its “unease,” AFP reported.
Local journalist Barzan Iso told RT on Saturday the Turkish artillery fire was hitting Menagh as well as a hamlet nearby. According to him, the airbase was previously held by Ahrar ash-Sham Islamist rebel group that fought Syrian government’s forces as Al-Nusra ally since the start of the Arab Spring.
Menagh airbase was a Syrian Air Force installation located 6 kilometers south of Azaz, Aleppo Governorate.
Earlier this month, the YPG and its non-Kurdish allies regained control over the airbase, aided by Russian airstrikes and indirect cooperation from government forces.
Ahrar ash-Sham, which intensified its attacks on the Syrian army since January, was getting “serious reinforcements from Turkey,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said during a briefing in Moscow on January 21.