Turkey vows to keep up strikes on Kurds in northern Syria
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Turkey vows to keep up strikes on Kurds in northern Syria

Erdogan rejects calls for end to cross-border assault, says it will not tolerate Kurdish stronghold on its border

Turkish artillery fire from the border toward northern Syria, in Kilis, Turkey on Feb. 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Halit Onur Sandal)
Turkish artillery fire from the border toward northern Syria, in Kilis, Turkey on Feb. 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Halit Onur Sandal)

ANKARA — President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday vowed Turkey would not allow the creation of a Kurdish stronghold in northern Syria, saying there was no question of Turkish forces stopping their bombardment of Syrian Kurdish fighters.

“We will not allow a new Qandil on our southern border” with Syria, Erdogan said in a televised speech in Ankara, referring to the mountain in northern Iraq which for years has been stronghold of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants.

“They (the West) tell us to stop shelling” the Kurdish fighters in Syria, Erdogan said after Turkey hit their positions for the last four days in a row.

“Forgive me, but there is no question of us doing such a thing. Whoever fires shells on Turkey will get not just a tit-for-tat response but an even greater one,” he added.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses a joint press conference with Yemen's president at the presidential complex in Ankara on February 16, 2016. (AFP / ADEM ALTAN)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses a joint press conference with Yemen’s president at the presidential complex in Ankara on February 16, 2016. (AFP / ADEM ALTAN)

Erdogan renewed his assault on the United States, which supports the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia as the best fighting force on the ground against Islamic State (IS) jihadists.

“The fact that the United States is continuing to support the YPG is something I find hard to understand,” said Erdogan.

“Aren’t we NATO allies?” he said, addressing Washington. “Are you our friend or the friend of the PYD?”

“We know that we need friends. But if you don’t see us as friends then please say it loud and clear.”

Washington recognizes the PKK as a terror group but not the PYD and YPG. But Erdogan said the links between the PKK and PYD were as tight as those between Al-Qaeda and its affiliate Al-Nusra Front.

Erdogan said that Turkey would “not allow… the provocative” steps taken by the Syrian Kurds in the northern Aleppo province where their advance has greatly alarmed Turkey.

Turkey fears the Syrian Kurds want to carve out a continuous autonomous region in northern Syria stretching from the Iraqi border almost to the Mediterranean.

Ankara also accuses the PYD of becoming a proxy of its regional foe Russia and working specifically to harm Turkish interests.

“We will not hesitate to take the necessary steps against all terror organisations in Syria,” said Erdogan.

“If someone is trying to test the limits of Turkey’s patience then they should know this limit has been reached.”

A senior Turkish official said Tuesday that Turkey was in favor of a ground operation in Syria to end the fighting, but only in cooperation with its Western and Gulf allies.

Erdogan said: “We are not in search of an adventure and we are not seeking to throw someone else into an adventure.”

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