Turkey carries out Syria air strikes

About 25 have taken place after bombing in Istanbul killed six people

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that an attack was imminent. AFP
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Turkey launched deadly airstrikes over northern regions of Syria and Iraq, the Turkish Defence Ministry said on Sunday, targeting Kurdish groups that Ankara holds responsible for last week’s bomb attack in Istanbul.

Warplanes attacked bases of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and the Syrian People’s Protection Units, or YPG, the ministry said in a statement, which was accompanied by images of F-16 jets taking off and footage of a strike from an aerial drone.

The ministry cited Turkey’s right to self defence under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter in launching an operation it called Claw-Sword late on Saturday. It said it was targeting areas “used as a base by terrorists in their attacks on our country”.

The bombing in the heart of Istanbul on November 13 killed six people and wounded more than 80 others. Turkish authorities blamed it on the PKK, as well as Syrian Kurdish groups affiliated with it. The Kurdish groups denied involvement.

The Turkish raids killed at least 13 members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and 12 Syrian regime forces, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group that has an extensive network of contacts across the country. The toll was expected to rise sharply due to a large number of critically injured victims.

Turkey insisted that the strikes killed only fighters while the SDF claimed that at least 11 civilians died. In first comment on the Turkish strikes, the Syrian Defence Ministry said "a number of soldiers" were killed due to "Turkish aggressions in northern Aleppo and Hasakeh province at dawn".

Ankara and Washington both consider the PKK to be a terrorist group, but disagree on the status of the Syrian-Kurdish factions, which have been allies of the US in the fight against ISIS.

After the attacks, the Turkish Defence Ministry posted a photo of a fighter plane with the phrase: “The treacherous attacks of the scoundrels are being held to account.”

There were strikes on Kobani, a town near the border where Turkey believes the order to carry out the Istanbul bombing originated. Other targets were hit in Hasakeh governorate, which is mostly held by Kurdish militias, and Aleppo governorate, which is controlled by a patchwork of different factions including Kurds, Syrian forces and Turkish-backed militias.

Kobani came under fierce attack by ISIS in 2014 and was successfully held by Kurdish forces, supported by US war planes. During that conflict, Turkey sent a large armoured force to the border with Syria near Kobani but did not intervene directly in the battle, which became the first international coalition victory against ISIS.

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Farhad Shami, spokesman for the SDF, tweeted that two villages heavily populated with displaced people were under Turkish bombardment.

He said the strikes caused deaths and injuries.

In Iraq, Turkish aircraft bombed several areas in the northern semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan, including the Qandil Mountains, Asous and Bradost, two local officials said.

There were no initial reports of casualties, they said.

On Friday, the US consulate general in Erbil issued a warning to American citizens, saying it was monitoring “credible open-source reports” of potential Turkish military action in northern Syria and northern Iraq in the coming days.

"The US government continues to strongly advise US citizens to avoid these areas," it said.

The Kurdish-led authority in north-east Syria said on Saturday that if Turkey attacked, then fighters in the area would have “the right to resist and defend our areas in a major way that will take the region into a long war”.

Turkey has launched three major cross-border operations into Syria since 2016 and already controls some territories in the north.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had hinted his country would carry out a military operation in northern Syria in response to the Istanbul attack.

The PKK began an insurgency against Turkey in 1984 that has killed more than 40,000 people. The PKK has been designated as a terrorist group by Turkey, the US and the EU.

Turkey has carried out cross-border air strikes, often with armed drones, in Iraq and Syria as part of its offensive against Kurdish militants.

Updated: November 20, 2022, 6:24 PM
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