BEIRUT- Turkey warned of grave consequences on Wednesday after pro-Syrian government forces entered Syria’s Afrin region to help Kurdish fighters repel a Turkish offensive,Reuters reports.
Their arrival opens the door to wider escalation on Syria’s messy northern battlefront, where Turkish troops, Syrian rebels, the Syrian army, Iran-linked militias backing Damascus, Kurdish fighters and Russian and American forces are all contending.
The Syrian Kurdish YPG militia said Turkish planes bombed a town in Afrin on Wednesday, as Ankara pressed its month-long assault. Turkey launched the air and ground offensive to drive out the YPG, which it considers a security threat along its border.
Paramilitary forces backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad arrived in Afrin on Tuesday to help the YPG, which said they would deploy near the border. Turkey and its Syrian insurgent allies tried to force them back with artillery fire.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said on Wednesday that the pro-Assad forces had retreated. “Any step by the regime or other elements in this direction will surely have serious consequences,” Ibrahim Kalin told a news conference.
But a YPG official and a pro-Assad military commander denied similar Turkish statements on Tuesday night. A commander in the alliance fighting alongside Damascus told Reuters the forces were in Afrin and had returned fire against Syrian insurgents backed by Turkey.
Erdogan described the pro-government fighters coming to the YPG’s aid as Shi‘ite militias and warned they would pay a heavy price. Although Turkey is not in direct talks with the Syrian government, its messages are being indirectly conveyed to Damascus, his spokesman said on Wednesday.
A new confrontation, pitting the Turkish army and its allies directly against pro-Assad forces, would further scramble the web of alliances and rivalries already at play in northern Syria.