Syria: Heavy fighting between SDF and Turkey-backed groups continues around Ain Issa

Heavy fighting between the SDF and Turkey-backed fighters continued near the Syrian city of Ain Issa on March 19-21, 2021. (Photo: Hussein Farman/Twitter)
Heavy fighting between the SDF and Turkey-backed fighters continued near the Syrian city of Ain Issa on March 19-21, 2021. (Photo: Hussein Farman/Twitter)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – At least 37 Turkey-backed opposition fighters and four members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were killed during the Kurdish new year holiday as fighting continued in northeast Syria, the SDF said.

A further 18 Syrian rebels backed by Ankara were wounded in clashes between March 19 and 21, the SDF said in a Monday statement, adding that a child was also killed and four civilians were wounded. Four members of the SDF were also injured, it said.

The SDF also rejected a Turkish Defense Ministry claim that the force suffered great losses in the weekend fighting.

On March 20, Turkey carried out its first airstrike on the US-backed SDF since October 2019, hitting an SDF position in Sayda village in the Ain Issa countryside, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and local Hawar News Agency (ANHA) reported.

On Oct. 19, 2019, after a long-threatened Turkish military incursion into northeast Syria to confront Kurdish elements of the SDF, the US mediated a ceasefire between Turkey and the SDF. A second deal brokered by Russia followed on Oct. 22.

Yet despite the agreements and Turkey occupying the border areas of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain (Serekaniye), affiliated Syrian armed groups and the Turkish army itself continue to target SDF-held areas.

Recently, there has been an increase in attacks by Turkey-backed groups near Ain Issa and the city of Manbij, in which civilians have also been killed.

Turkish-backed forces also shelled Kurdish forces in northern Aleppo, where thousands of people who were displaced by the Turkish occupation of Afrin currently live.

Mustafa Bali, the head of the SDF press office in northeast Syria, wrote on Twitter on March 19 that “Turkish attacks are again endangering civilian lives and infrastructure.”

Read More: Child killed, 5 others wounded in fighting near northern Syrian city of Ain Issa, SDF says

Ned Price, spokesperson for the US State Department, said early on Tuesday that the “United States is deeply concerned by the recent escalation of violence in northeast Syria.”

“We call on all parties to deescalate and adhere to the UN’s call for a nationwide ceasefire,” he added.

Senior Syrian Kurdish officials have regularly called on Russia and the US to pressure Turkey to abide by the ceasefire agreements.

But Russia and the Syrian government have also increased artillery attacks and airstrikes this month in northwestern Syria that have killed civilians in areas under Turkish control. The Russian attacks have especially focused on fuel tankers and oil facilities.

“Civilians, including civilian medical personnel and facilities, must never be the target of military action. This violence must stop – we reiterate our call for a nationwide ceasefire,” Price said in a statement on Monday in response to increased violence in western Aleppo and Idlib provinces.

Editing by Joanne Stocker-Kelly