A week after the deadly bomb attack in Istanbul, the Turkish military attacked Kurdish positions in northern Iraq and northern Syria. The operations were directed against the banned Kurdish Workers' Party PKK and the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG, as announced by the Defense Ministry in Ankara on Sunday.
It's the time of "settlements," tweeted Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey blames Kurdish groups for the blast that killed six in Istanbul last Sunday.
At least 31 people were killed and dozens injured, some seriously, in the night air strikes, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. According to the Turkish Defense Ministry, 89 targets in northern Syria and northern Iraq were "destroyed". In addition, "large numbers of terrorists have been neutralized". The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), led by Kurdish militias, threatened Turkey with retaliation: "These attacks will not go unanswered," it said in a statement.
Apparently Kurdish reprisals
On Sunday evening, Turkish state media then reported rocket fire in Turkey near the Syrian border. Two soldiers and six police officers were injured near the Turkish city of Kilis. The rocket was fired by the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG, it said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Kurdish activists told the German Press Agency that Turkish military bases in the Syrian region of Aleppo had been shelled. It was said that they were retaliatory measures for the Turkish attacks.
Among other things, the Turkish Air Force bombed places near Kobane and Aleppo. A post by the Syrian government was also a goal. Syrian soldiers were killed in the attacks, the activists and Syria's state news agency Sana reported. Turkey named the northern Iraqi towns of Kandil, Asus, Hakurk and the Syrian towns of Tall Rifat, Kobane, Jazeera and Al-Malikiyah as targets.
Ankara regards the YPG and PKK as terrorist organizations
Turkey has conducted four military offensives in northern Syria since 2016, also targeting the YPG. Ankara sees the YPG as an offshoot of the PKK and regards both as terrorist organizations. The USA is cooperating with the YPG in the fight against the terrorist militia Islamic State (IS), but classifies the PKK as terrorist. In northern Syria, Turkey is occupying border areas as a result of its military operations and is cooperating with rebel groups.
The conflict between Turkish armed forces and PKK has a decades-long history and has so far claimed thousands of victims - according to the organization International Crisis Group, the majority of PKK members and allies were killed.
The Turkish army has also attacked several places in northern Iraq, the news site Rudaw reported. The goal was about Kandil mountains. The PKK has its headquarters there.
The Defense Ministry in Ankara invoked the right to self-defense under the United Nations Charter. In the past, however, the scientific service of the Bundestag had doubted whether similar operations were compatible with international law. According to Ankara, Turkey successfully destroyed, among other things, the "terrorists'" shelters, caves and tunnels with Operation "Claw Sword".
HDP: Government uses the attack as a pretext
Experts suspect that the Turkish government's goal could be to connect Turkish-occupied areas west and east of the Syrian city of Kobane. After the offensive began at night, there were further attacks in the region during the day, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. Among other things, Kobane has a strong symbolic character for many Kurds. The Kurds once liberated the city from IS with international help.
The pro-Kurdish party HDP in Turkey sharply condemned the attacks. The government is using the attack in Istanbul as a pretext to take action against Kobane, which has "inspired the oppressed of this world" with its "epic resistance" against IS, it said.
Investigations continued after the bomb blast on Istanbul's busy Istiklal shopping street. On Friday, 17 people were arrested in Turkey. In addition, five people were arrested in Bulgaria who are accused of assisting in the attack.
The PKK and YPG firmly deny any involvement and also accuse Turkey of having created a pretext for another military operation in northern Syria with the accusation. Independent experts have also expressed such suspicions, especially since the Turkish President has been announcing such an offensive for months. The USA, but also Russia and Iran, had previously clearly advised Ankara against another military offensive. Russia and Iran support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.