Syria deploys warplanes over flashpoint city

People fleeing Hasaka after the Syrian government deployed warplanes to bomb the Kurdish-held areas in the city on August 20.
People fleeing Hasaka after the Syrian government deployed warplanes to bomb the Kurdish-held areas in the city on August 20.PHOTO: REUTERS

Action comes despite US warnings against strikes that put its military advisers at risk

HASAKEH (Syria) • Syrian government warplanes were in the air again yesterday over the flashpoint north-eastern city of Hasakeh, despite a US warning against new strikes that might endanger its military advisers.

In another escalation of the five-year war, regime planes this week bombarded positions held by US-backed Kurdish forces in the city fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group.

The unprecedented strikes prompted the US-led coalition to scramble aircraft to protect its special operations forces helping the Kurdish fighters, warning the regime not to put the advisers on the ground at risk.

It was apparently the first time the coalition scrambled jets in response to regime action, and possibly the closest call yet in terms of Syrian forces wounding American or coalition advisers.

Throughout the night and into Saturday morning, regime warplanes took to the skies above Hasakeh again, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group.

MORE ACTIVE ROLE

We say the bloodshed needs to stop. Babies, children, innocent people should not die. That's why Turkey will be more active in trying to stop the danger getting worse in the next six months, compared with before

TURKISH PRIME MINISTER BINALI YILDIRIM, on efforts to reduce "instability" in the region.

It was not immediately clear whether the aircraft had carried out any bombing runs as there were heavy artillery exchanges on the ground.

Around two-thirds of Hasakeh is controlled by Kurdish forces, while the rest is held by pro-government militia.

Russia flexed its muscles again over Syria on Friday, for the first time launching cruise missiles at targets from warships in the Mediterranean Sea days after beginning bombing runs from a base in Iran. Taken together, the new military moves appeared to be a demonstration that Russia has the ability to strike from virtually all directions in a region where it has been reasserting its power - from Iran, from warships in the Caspian Sea, from its base in the Syrian coastal province of Latakia and now from the Mediterranean.

As the fighting rages, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim vowed yesterday that Ankara would play a "more active" role in the next six months in efforts to solve the five-year Syrian civil war.

Mr Yildirim said Ankara would step up efforts to reduce "instability" in the region.

"We say the bloodshed needs to stop. Babies, children, innocent people should not die. That's why Turkey will be more active in trying to stop the danger getting worse in the next six months, compared with before," Mr Yildirim told foreign reporters in Istanbul.

Mr Yildirim said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad can remain temporarily during a transition period as "he is one of the actors today no matter whether we like it or not".

But the premier stressed that Mr Assad has no role to play in Syria's future.

"We believe that the PKK, Daesh and Assad should not be in the future of Syria," he added, referring to the Syrian Kurds and ISIS.

Mr Yildirim said it was "out of the question" for Turkey to talk with the Syrian leader, and said regional countries Turkey and Iran, as well as Russia and the United States must work towards a solution in Syria.

The Turkish premier also said Damascus understood that Kurds in northern Syria have become a threat.

"This is a new situation... It is clear that the (Syrian) regime has understood the structure Kurds are trying to form in the north (of Syria) has started to become a threat for Syria too," he added, referring to the Syrian Kurds' bid to join up regions under their control.

Turkey fears the strengthening of Kurdish militant groups in Syria will further embolden its own Kurdish insurgency, which flared anew following the collapse of a ceasefire between militants and the state last year.

In Syria's devastated city of Aleppo, more than 300 civilians have been killed in a three-week surge of fighting, the Observatory said yesterday.

On July 31, rebels launched a major push to break a government siege of districts under their control.

The toll includes 165 civilians - among them 49 children - killed in opposition fire on the city's government-held western districts.

Another 168 civilians died in Russian and regime air strikes and shelling on its rebel-controlled eastern neighbourhoods, the Observatory said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 21, 2016, with the headline 'Syria deploys warplanes over flashpoint city'. Print Edition | Subscribe