Middle East

Syria conflict: Helicopter 'drops bombs on Turkish-backed rebels'

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels in Yahmoul village (10 October 2016) Image copyright AFP
Image caption Since late August, the Turkish-backed rebels have driven IS militants out of several key towns

Turkey says it believes a Syrian government aircraft has attacked Turkish-backed rebels battling Islamic State militants in northern Syria.

A military statement said a helicopter had dropped barrel bombs on rebels in the village of Tal Nayif, south-east of Dabiq, killing two and wounding five.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said such attacks would not halt its operations against IS.

There was no immediate comment from the Syrian military.

Syria is not believed to have ground forces near Tal Nayif, but it has denounced Turkey's support of the rebel offensive with warplanes, tanks and artillery as a "dangerous escalation and flagrant violation of Syrian sovereignty".

Since late August, the rebels have driven IS militants out of the key border town of Jarablus as well as Dabiq, which holds great symbolic value to the jihadist group.

The Turkish government in Ankara says it hopes the operation will create a de facto buffer zone close to the border, to where some of the 2.7 million Syrian refugees sheltering in Turkey could return.

Ankara is also seeking to contain US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters, who it says are closely linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Turkey.

After reports of the Tal Nayif attack emerged, Mr Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara that Turkey would not be deterred and that the rebels would press on to the IS stronghold of al-Bab, about 15km (9 miles) from their current position.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Turkey says the rebels will press on until they reach the IS stronghold of al-Bab

He also warned that Turkey would take measures against Kurdish fighters if they did not withdraw from the town of Manbij, 40km (25 miles) east of al-Bab, and move east of the River Euphrates.

Meanwhile, a commander of pro-Syrian government militia alliance that includes the Lebanese group Hezbollah warned Turkey against any advance towards their positions to the north and east of the divided city of Aleppo.

A statement sent to the Reuters news agency, which did not identify the commander, said any such move would be seen as a breach of "red lines" and be met "decisively and with force".

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Russia says it has extended a moratorium on air strikes on besieged, rebel-held parts of Aleppo

The government's staunch ally, Russia, also said on Tuesday that it would extend a moratorium on air strikes on besieged, rebel-held eastern districts of Aleppo.

However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, reported that air strikes had resumed in recent days, focusing on areas that sit closest to the front line.

Russia also said it was ready to formally resume "humanitarian pauses" once international organisations could provide guarantees that they were "willing to evacuate the ill, the injured and civilians".

There have been accusations that rebels have hindered the evacuation of civilians, but they say constant shelling and sniping around designated escape corridors has made leaving impossible.

Also on Wednesday, at least 16 people were killed in air strikes on a rebel-held village of Haas, east of Aleppo, according to the Syrian Observatory. Several locations were reportedly hit, including an area near a school.