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Syrian Government Forces Move Northward

Residents inspect the damage as blood stains are seen on the ground after airstrikes by pro-Syrian government forces in the rebel-held al-Sakhour neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria, Feb. 8, 2016. (REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail)
Syrian Government Forces Move Northward
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Russian airstrikes in Syria have helped Syrian government forces in their offensive against rebels.

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have moved within 25 kilometers of the country’s border with Turkey for the first time since August 2013.

Activists and rebel commanders say the offensive has left moderate rebel groups disorganized and unable to fight effectively. The fighting has also pushed more Syrian civilians toward the border area.

Turkish officials warn that the Russian air attacks and heavy fighting in Syria could force as many as 600,000 civilians to flee the country. Turkey has said it wants the civilians to stay on the Syrian side of the border.

The Turkish Deputy Prime Minister said, “Our objective for now is to keep this wave of migrants on the other side of Turkey’s borders as much as is possible, and to provide them with the necessary services there.”

However, a Syrian Arab Red Crescent official told VOA Monday that at least 25,000 refugees have crossed the border in Oncupinar, along the far western part of the border.

There are reports that some Kurdish groups are working with forces loyal to the Assad government. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, known as the YPG, entered two Sunni Arab villages near the city of Aleppo.

Some rebel commanders have rejected reports that territory held by the YPG is being bombed. They also speak of what they call clear evidence that Syrian Kurdish leaders are colluding with the Syrian government. The YPG denies this.

A Free Syrian Army fighter uses binoculars near the Menagh military airport, in Aleppo's countryside, Syria, January 10, 2013.
A Free Syrian Army fighter uses binoculars near the Menagh military airport, in Aleppo's countryside, Syria, January 10, 2013.

Anti-Assad rebels have held the Menagh airbase near Aleppo since August of 2013. There have been unconfirmed reports suggesting that Kurdish fighters may have attacked the base.

However, the YPG denies that it is working with the government. YPG commanders say their control of towns near Aleppo prevents Iranian and Shi’ite fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Afghanistan from moving forward.

The YPG says it moved Sunni Arab families who are fleeing the fighting to the Kurdish community of Afrin.

The group said the refugee transfer is supposed “to prove to everyone that Syria is for all its citizens.” The YPG added that it is not fighting Arabs, as some media reports say.

Salih Muslim is the head of the Democratic Union Party, which controls the YPG. He told VOA that he is not sure the current government offensive would affect Syrian Kurdish hopes for semi-autonomy.

He said his group would not fight Islamic State forces west of the Euphrates River unless they were working with the U.S.-led international coalition.

He said his biggest concern is that Turkish forces would be pulled into the fighting.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Edogan has warned that his country will not permit Kurdish gains in northern Syria. He also said Turkey will not permit a semi-autonomous Kurdish group to gain control of Syria.

On Sunday, Edogan said the United States has to choose between Turkey and the YPG. Turkey has banned the YPG and another Kurdish group, the PYD.

A European Union diplomat told VOA the situation hurts moderate militias and helps more extreme Islamist fighters in the area.

I’m Mario Ritter.

Jamie Dettmer reported this story. Mario Ritter adapted his report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

collude – v. to work with others secretly, often to do something illegal

semi-autonomy – n. the state of having some of the powers and rights to govern oneself; a state of being partly separate

wave – n. something that has the shape or movement of a wave

transfer – n. the act of moving someone or something from one place to another