First Turkish air strikes on Kurdish zone in Syria in 17 months: human rights group

BEIRUT (AFP) - The Turkish airforce conducted its first strikes in 17 months against a zone in north Syria held by Kurdish militia on Saturday (March 20) night, a monitor said.

"A Turkish fighter jet has struck military positions of Syrian Democratic Forces in Saida village in Ain Issa countryside...which caused loud explosions," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

It added that this was the first aerial raid since "Operation Peace Spring", an October 2019 military campaign launched by Ankara and its Syrian allies against the Syrian Democratic Forces in northern Syria.

That operation, interrupted after two accords negotiated by Ankara with first Washington, and then Moscow, allowed Turkey to to seize control of a "safe zone" inside Syria around 120km long and 32km deep.

The village of Ain Issa, however, remained in the hands of Kurdish forces.

The air strikes come the same day as violent clashes and intensive rocket fire on the frontlines of Ain Issa district between the Syrian Democratic Forces and Turkish-backed factions, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, adding that there had been confirmed casualties.

"Clashes between the two sides have been going on for the last 24 hours... Turkish forces have had difficulty advancing since the (Syrian Democratic Forces) destroyed a Turkish tank," the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Mr Rami Abdul Rahman, told Agence France-Presse.

The Syrian Kurdish-led People's Protection Units, which form a vital component of the Syrian Democratic Forces, are considered by Turkey to be a "terrorist offshoot" of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party.

But they have also been a key ally to the United States and others in the battle against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militant group in Syria.