Turkey fires across its border into Syria near the town of Kilis earlier this year. Photo: Bulent Kilic/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region—Turkey has promised “all kinds of support” for an operation to liberate the northern Syrian city of Jarablus from Islamic State, saying it is unacceptable to have the militant group in control of any territory in Syria or Iraq. But a rights monitor and a local council believe Ankara’s real target is the Kurds, who are advancing in northern Syria on a daily basis.
“We will provide all kinds of support to the Jarablus operation,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in a press conference on Tuesday, promising help to clear ISIS from Syria. “This is important for our own security.”
Turkish military vehicles are amassing along its border with Syria. And Ankara was closely watching developments in the area, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said in an interview with NTV television, noting, “What we have said, since the beginning, is that having Jarablus or any other city held by ISIS is unacceptable.”
The Free Syrian Army, which is backed by Turkey, announced on Monday that it is preparing to liberate Jarablus from ISIS, which has been under the militants’ control since early 2013.
Turkey fired at least 60 artillery rounds across the border on Tuesday, reportedly in retaliation for shelling of two Turkish border towns, an anonymous source told Anadolu Agency.
Karkamış was hit by five mortar shells and another three landed in Kilis. There were no reports of casualties from Tuesday’s attacks but at least 21 people in Kilis have been killed in cross-border fire in the past few months.
Turkish police have asked residents of Karkamış to evacuate, according to Dogan News Agency. The governor is providing minibuses for those residents who do not have a car and civil servants have been given two days administrative leave.
The mayor of Karkamış told CNN Turkey that there is no official evacuation order but that people are leaving the town voluntarily.
Kilis and Jarablus lie just a few kilometres apart.
The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdul Rahman, believes Turkey’s real aim in Syria is to stop the progress of Kurdish forces.
“Turkish shelling in Syria aimed to prevent the advance of troops backed by Kurds from Manbij towards Jarablus,” Abdul Rahman told AFP.
The Jarablus and its suburbs military council issued a statement on Sunday denouncing Turkey’s “hostile activities” which it said were begun immediately following the liberation of Manbij. They warned those parties acting under Turkey’s command to stop their actions against Jarablus, saying “We confirm that we will not stay just looking at these hated acts, we will protect our people and area according to the national principles.”
The council called on the United States and the international coalition to protect the Jarablus area from the Turkish army.
On Monday, Turkish artillery hit Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG) positions 20 times, officials told Reuters.
Turkey previously forcibly prevented Kurdish forces from advancing into that same northwestern swath of border territory, the Jarablus-Azaz line, last February, when it fired artillery at YPG fighters advancing towards Azaz from Afrin Canton to the west.
US Vice President Joe Biden will be in Ankara on Wednesday to meet with Turkey’s leaders. Strategy in Syria is likely a main issue that will be discussed.