ANKARA, Feb 17, (Agencies): President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday vowed Turkey would not allow the creation of a Kurdish stronghold in northern Syria, saying there was no question of Turkish forces stopping their bombardment of Syrian Kurdish fighters. “We will not allow a new Qandil on our southern border” with Syria, Erdogan said in a televised speech in Ankara, referring to the mountain in northern Iraq which for years has been stronghold of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants. “They (the West) tell us to stop shelling” the Kurdish fighters in Syria, Erdogan said after Turkey hit their positions for the last four days in a row.
“Forgive me, but there is no question of us doing such a thing. Whoever fires shells on Turkey will get not just a tit-fortat response but an even greater one,” he added. Erdogan renewed his assault on the United States, which supports the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia as the best fighting force on the ground against Islamic State (IS) jihadists. “The fact that the United States is continuing to support the YPG is something I find hard to understand,” said Erdogan. “Aren’t we NATO allies?” he said, addressing Washington.
“Are you our friend or the friend of the PYD?” “We know that we need friends. But if you don’t see us as friends then please say it loud and clear.” Turkey wants a secure strip of territory 10 km (6.2 miles) deep on the Syrian side of its border, including the town of Azaz, to prevent attempts to “change the demographic structure” of the area, Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan said on Wednesday. Syrian government forces backed by Russian air strikes have advanced towards the Turkish border in a major offensive in recent weeks.
Kurdish militia fighters, regarded by Ankara as hostile insurgents, have taken advantage of the violence to seize territory from Syrian rebels. Meanwhile, at least 25 people were killed in the bombing of a hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders in northwestern Syria this week, the aid group said on Wednesday.
Revising a previous toll of 11 dead, an MSF spokeswoman said nine hospital staff and 16 other people, including patients and a child, had died after the bombing of the hospital on Monday in Idlib province. At least 11 others were injured, including 10 hospital staff, the spokeswoman said. MSF has not assigned blame for the attack but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, has said a suspected air Russian air strike hit the hospital. An intensification of fighting between pro-government forces and rebels in southern Syria has left nearly 50,000 civilians homeless in the heart of winter, the United Nations said on Wednesday.
The displacement comes with international attention largely focused on the north of Syria, where a government offensive backed by Russian air strikes has triggered an exodus of refugees towards the Turkish border.
The UN humanitarian coordinator in Jordan, Edward Kallon, said the world body had organised additional crossborder aid convoys over the past fortnight that had provided winter clothing and basic shelter to more than 30,000 civilians, over 7,000 of them children. In southern Syria, near the frontier with Jordan, the city of Daraa remains in government hands but there has been heavy fighting in much of the surrounding province.