Turkish military strikes ISIL in northern Syria
Turkish army shells ISIL targets in Syria’s Jarablus for second day after mortar bombs hit town in southeastern Turkey.
The Turkish military has shelled Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) positions in northern Syria for a second day, in response to what it said was mortar fire from across the border.
At least seven mortar bombs, believed to had been launched from the ISIL-controled Syrian border town of Jarablus, landed on Tuesday on residential areas in the town of Karkamis in Turkey’s southeastern province of Gaziantep.
No casulties were reported as a result of the incident.
Turkey later retaliated with cross-border artillery, a security source told Turkey’s state run Anadolu agency.
Speaking on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on talking to the media, the source told Anadolu that four ISIL targets were hit, but did not specify the targets.
Meanwhile, security forces blocked access to the town of Karkamis, which lies only one kilometre across the frontier from Jarablus, and the authorities asked locals to leave the town, according to Turkish media.
Separately, three rockets fired from ISIL-controlled territory in Syria landed in neighbouring Kilis on Tuesday.
There were also no reports of casualties.
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Turkey first launched separate artillery strikes on Kurdish and ISIL positions in northern Syria on Monday.
The Turkish army first shelled ISIL targets near Jarablus on Monday, following Ankara’s vow to push the armed group, also known as ISIS, from its border with Syria.
Also on Monday, Turkey launched separate artillery strikes on Kurdish YPG positions north of the nearby city of Manbij.
The YPG targets were hit 20 times, a Turkish official told the Reuters news agency.
Ankara has spoken out against the advance of US-backed Syrian-Kurdish YPG fighters, seeing them as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been fighting for Kurdish autonomy in southeastern Turkey since the 1980s.
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The YPG, or the People’s Protection Units, currently controls swaths of territory along the northeastern border with Turkey – from the towns of Hasaka to Afrin – while its political wing, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), claims an autonomous region now called Rojava.
The Kurdish group makes up a significant portion of the US-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish and Arab alliance fighting ISIL in Syria. The US and EU considers the YPG as one of their most effective allies in the fight against ISIL.
Earlier this month, YPG forces backed by air raids from a US-led anti-ISIL coalition, ousted ISIL fighters from Manbij.
But Turkey views the Kurdish presence in northern Syria as an unacceptable “red line” and wants the Free Syrian Army (FSA), another opposition group, to take over areas once controlled by ISIL in the border regions.
Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Gaziantep on the Turkish side of the Syria-Turkey border, said advances by the Kurds “raised concerns within the political and military establishment within Turkey.
“They are concerned about the growing territorial gains of Kurdish factions.”
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On Sunday, it was reported that the FSA was planning to attack the ISIL-controlled region of Jarablus from inside Turkey to prevent any Kurdish efforts to control the area.
A rebel official, who declined to be identified, told Reuters that hundreds of FSA and opposition fighters were expected to launch an assault on Jarablus from inside Turkey in the next few days.
On Monday, a Turkish official also told Reuters that “the fundamental aim in the latest operation [of the strikes on Jarablus and Manbij] is to open a corridor for moderate rebels”.
Al Jazeera’s Ahelbarra said the FSA had not been as successful as the YPG forces in taking over territory from ISIL up to now, but this may soon change.
“Particularly in Jarablus and Manbij, they [FSA fighters] were outgunned and outnumbered by Kurdish factions,” he said.
“But it seems Turkey is now willing to put an end to the growing influence of Kurdish factions in Syria and at least have their own allies, particularly the FSA, take over” he said.
“It remains to be seen whether this will be a period of an aggressive Turkish role in northern Syria or just pave the way for the FSA to be able to advance.”
Turkey also shelled YPG positions in northern Syria in February, demanding that the group withdrew from areas it had captured.