Syria warns it will ‘down Turkish planes next time,’ calls bombing of Kurds ‘flagrant aggression’

© Goran Tomasevic
Damascus has reacted harshly to the bombing of Kurdish militias in northern Syria on Thursday morning by Turkey’s air force, vowing to intervene next time Ankara sends its planes over its border.

In a statement, the Syrian Defense Ministry accused Turkey of “flagrant aggression, which targeted innocent citizens,” saying that it considers it “a dangerous development that could escalate the situation.”

“Any attempt to once again breach Syrian airspace by Turkish war planes will be dealt with and they will be brought down by all means available,” warned Damascus, whose planes, which have flown in concert with a Russian expeditionary force, have been avoiding direct confrontation with unauthorized NATO jets.

Turkish artillery guns have been firing at Kurdish militias, who are now fighting against Ankara-backed rebels over territory won back from Islamic State in northern Turkey on Wednesday. Turkey said that the airstrikes took out up to 200 Kurds, though the YPG, the Kurdish militia, initially put its losses at 15.

Syria called the victims “150 innocent civilians” and said that “these irresponsible acts will have dire consequences that will threaten the region's stability and security.”

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The US, Turkey’s NATO ally, has meanwhile distanced itself from the airstrikes, with State Department spokesperson John Kirby tweeting on Thursday that “contrary to some reports, US was not involved in Turkey airstrikes last night.”

Kirby added that US “called on all parties on the ground to avoid uncoordinated movements,” adding that they “only benefit” Islamic State terrorists.

Turkish aerial incursions into Syria have grown more frequent, as fighting has intensified around Aleppo, with at least four factions vying to take control of northern Syria, all with their own agendas.

Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, tensions have been on the rise between the two neighboring countries, with Ankara backing armed rebels opposing the legitimate Syrian government. On several occasions, shelling from heavy fighting spilled over the border and into Turkey, further inflaming the situation.

In June 2012, Syria downed a Turkish military jet on reconnaissance mission over Syrian territorial waters 1 kilometer from its coast. While Syria insisted that it was acting in defense of its borders, Ankara accused it of breaching international law. Turkey later confirmed that the jet did enter into Syrian airspace by mistake but claimed that it was shot down in international airspace after it had left Syrian territory.

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In August, the Turkish army supported by Syrian rebels launched a ground intervention into Syrian territory, aiming to liberate the Kurdish border town of Jarablus from Islamic State, which had held the city since July 2013. Damascus condemned the incursion as a violation of its sovereignty, while the Kurds accused Turkey of unleashing a “war” on Kurdish militias who wanted to retake the town from terrorists.