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14 Feb, 2016 11:54

Damascus confirms its army targeted by Turkish shelling, complains to UN

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.

Syria’s government has condemned Turkey for shelling Syrian territory, describing the act as direct support for “terrorist” groups, Syrian state media reported on Sunday, citing the letter to the United Nations.

Damascus sent the letter after Turkey shelled areas recently captured by a Kurdish-backed alliance north of Aleppo on Saturday. It demanded that the UN Security council “take responsibility for international peace and security by putting an end to the crimes committed by the Turkish regime.”

“On February 13, 2016, since the afternoon hours, Turkey’s heavy artillery, located on Turkish territory, artillery shelled Syrian territory, targeting Syrian Kurdish positions and the positions of the Syrian Arab Army,” SANA news agency reported after obtaining the letter.

“In addition, Turkish artillery bombarded the towns of Maraanaz, al-Malikiyah, Minagh, Ain Dakna and Bazi Bagh, which are home to the civilian population,” the complaint addressed to UN Secretary General and Un Security Council said.

The letter added that 12 trucks mounted with heavy machine-guns and carrying around a hundred fighters entered Syrian territory from Turkey through the Bab al-Salam checkpoint on Saturday.

“Some of the militants were Turkish Army servicemen and the rest – Turkish mercenaries,” it said.

The Turkish military carried out the artillery strikes in response to the military offensive being conducted by the Syrian Arab Army in the northern part of Aleppo province, the Syrian government stressed.

The shelling is “an attempt to increase the morale of armed terrorist groupings, who are being defeated,” the appeal to the UN added.

In the letter, the Syrian government condemned recent statements by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, calling them proof of Turkey’s “blatant interference” in Syrian affairs and support of Jabhat al-Nusra and other al-Qaeda linked terror groups operating in the country.

The Syrian government stressed that it “reserves its legitimate right to respond to the reoccurring crimes, acts of aggression, and abuse by Turkey, as well as the right to seek compensation for the damage caused by these acts.”

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.

France also joined the US calls, with the country’s Foreign Ministry urging Turkey to halt the bombardment of Kurdish areas in Syria.

"France is worried about the deteriorating situation in the region of Aleppo and the north of Syria," Paris said in a statement.

The priority should be the fight against Islamic State and the implementation of agreements reached by the International Syria Support Group (Russia, US and UN) in Munich earlier this week, it added.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told German Chancellor Angela Merkel by phone later on Sunday that Turkey’s security forces will to continue to respond to attacks by the Kurdish YPG militia in northern Syria, sources in the PM’s office told Reuters.

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.