Turkey threatens more Syria strikes if Kurdish forces do not retreat

Fighting pits Nato-ally Turkey against US-backed Kurds

Turkey has warned Kurdish forces in Syria of more strikes unless they withdraw east of the Euphrates river immediately.

Turkey's foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke as Syrian opposition groups reported that Turkey-backed Syrian rebels have captured more towns and villages in northern Syria.

The offensive, codenamed Euphrates Shield, saw Turkish tanks cross the border to help Syrian rebels seize the town of Jarablus from Isis, but officials have warned about its twin aim of deterring further advances by Kurdish-led forces, which the government views as terrorists.

The fighting pits Turkey, a Nato ally, against the Kurds, which are backed by the US and have emerged as the most effective ground force battling Isis militants in Syria's five-year-old civil war.

It leaves Washington in the tough spot of having to choose between two allies, and is likely to divert resources from the fight against Isis.

Both Turkey and the US have ordered the main Kurdish fighting force, the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) to withdraw to the east bank of the Euphrates.

"The YPG has to immediately cross east of the Euphrates River as they promised the United States and as they announced they would," said Mr Cavusoglu.

"If they don't, they will be a target."

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a predominantly Kurdish alliance backed by the US-led coalition, had advanced to within a mile of Jarablus after driving Isis from swathes of northern Syria in recent months.

The group has driven Isis out of swathes of northern Syria in recent months, including retaking the key city of Manbij.

But Turkey has been concerned by the group's success, which has seen Kurdish groups including the People's Protection Units (YPG) take control of land stretching almost the entire length of the Syrian border.

Video shows tanks on the Turkey/Syria border

The Turkish Prime Minister reaffirmed his country's commitment to remove both Isis and the Kurdish groups from border regions on Friday.

“We intend to cleanse our borders of all terrorist organisations, particularly Daesh,” Binali Yıldırım said, using the Arabic acronym for Isis.

“This operation will continue until we are sure that no threat to Turkey remains.”

Turkish-backed forces pushing into Syria have been rebuked by the US, which said it was concerned the battle had shifted away from targeting Isis.

"We want to make clear that we find these clashes - in areas where ISIL is not located - unacceptable and a source of deep concern," said Brett McGurk, US special envoy for the fight against Islamic State, using an acronym for the jihadists.

"We call on all armed actors to stand down," he wrote on his official Twitter account, citing a statement from the US Department of Defense.

YPG leaders say they have withdrawn to the east bank of the river, but their units advise the Syrian Democratic Forces and it is not clear if any remain west of the Euphrates.

SDF forces have said they will withdraw south of the Sajour River, a tributary of the Euphrates, in order not to put the lives of civilians in danger following attacks by Turkey-backed Syrian rebels.

"We, the Military council of Jarablus and its countryside, announce the withdrawal of our forces to the line south of the Sajour River to preserve the lives of civilians and so that no pretext remains for continued strikes on villages and civilians," an online statement from the military council said.

Turkish air strikes and artillery attacks have killed at least 40 civilians and wounded dozens more, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Observatory said at least 20 civilians were killed and 50 had been wounded in Turkish artillery fire and air strikes in the village of Jeb el-Kussa, south of Jarablus, and added that another 20 had been killed and 25 wounded in Turkish air strikes near the town of al-Amarneh.

It also said at least four Kurdish fighters had been killed and 15 injured in the attacks on both areas.

The situation in Jarablus on 29 August, with Turkish-backed territory and operations shown in blue, Isis in black, and the Syrian Democratic Forces in yellow

Turkey denied any civilians had been hit.

A Turkish soldier was killed by a Kurdish rocket attack on Saturday, becoming the first such fatality in Turkey's ground offensive.

The Observatory also said Turkey-backed rebels had managed to seize at least 11 villages in 48 hours, bringing the total to at least 21 villages in the south and west Jarablus countryside captured since 25 August.

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