Turkish military forces have claimed the lives of at least 11 civilians, including eight children, in an artillery attack that struck near a school in the northwestern Syrian province of Aleppo.
The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported on Monday that the shelling took place in the Kurdish-held town of Tal Rifaat as students were leaving the building and left 21 others injured. Rami Abdel Rahman, the Observatory head, said most of those killed in the attack had been displaced from the Syria’s northwestern region of Afrin, which was captured last year by Turkish troops. The strategic town of Tal Rifaat is located 20 kilometers south of Turkey’s border and has been the scene of regular confrontations between Turkish-backed forces and Kurdish militants from the so-called People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Ankara threatened last year to launch a cross-border offensive to capture Tal Rifaat after taking Afrin from the US-backed YPG militants. Russia agreed in October to work with Turkey to remove YPG “elements and their weapons” from Tal Rifaat, but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in early November that Kurdish “terror groups” had still not left.
Turkey regards the YPG as a terrorist organization tied to the homegrown Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group, which has been seeking an autonomous Kurdish region in the Anatolian country since 1984. Turkish army forces on October 9 launched a cross-border offensive into northeastern Syria in a declared attempt to clear YPG militants from a 32-kilometer “safe zone” in border areas. Thirteen days into the operation, Turkey and Russia reached an agreement under which YPG militants would pull back 30 kilometers south of Turkey’s border with Syria, and security forces from Turkey and Russia would carry out joint patrols in the area to prevent the militants from reemerging there. The Kurdish-led administration in northeastern Syria says the Turkish offensive has killed 218 civilians, including 18 children, since its outset. The fighting has also wounded more than 650 people. The Syrian government has strongly condemned the Turkish offensive as an act of aggression.