Published by Ekurd 16 February 2016

BEIRUT,— Kurdish-led forces on Monday seized a key rebel bastion in Syria’s Aleppo province, extending the opposition’s losses in the region after a major regime operation there, a monitor said.The Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, seized control of Tel Rifaat from mostly Islamist rebel forces on Monday night, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.

The SDF capture came despite Turkey shelling the town to try to halt the alliance from advancing after several days of attacks on the one-time rebel stronghold.

It left the rebels in Aleppo with only a few remaining bastions, including the town of Marea, just east of Tel Rifaat, and the border town of Azaz to the north.

Elsewhere, the rebels have largely crumbled in the face of a major regime operation backed by Russian air power and the simultaneous SDF advance.

In recent days, the SDF seized the Minnigh airbase from rebels, and regime forces have virtually encircled the opposition-held eastern part of Aleppo city.

The opposition defeats have angered Turkey, a longstanding backer of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

Ankara is particularly sensitive about the SDF advances.

It views Syria’s powerful Kurdish forces as affiliates of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an outlawed group that waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

Turkey has shelled SDF positions for the past three days and warned it will not allow Azaz to fall, but so far has been unable to halt the coalition advance.

The Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) party in Syrian Kurdistan on Sunday rejected Turkish demands that allied militia withdraw from positions near the border that are being shelled by Turkish army, and warned that Syrians would resist any Turkish intervention in the country.

Salih Muslim, the co-chair of the PYD, told Reuters Turkey had no right to intervene in Syria’s internal affairs, adding that an air base shelled by the Turkish army on Saturday had been in the hands of the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front until forces allied to the PYD captured it last week.

Syria’s Kurds have avoided officially siding with either government or opposition during the war, choosing instead to concentrate on building a semi-autonomous Kurdish region in Syrian Kurdistan (areas that are largely Kurdish-majority in north and northeast Syria).

The powerful Kurdish People’s Protection Units YPG forces which the U.S. and Russia consider an ally in the fight against IS, is the most effective group fighting Islamic State (IS) in Syria, as the Kurdish militia has seized swathes of Syria from IS.

Their latest advances are part of a bid to unite the Kurdish town of Afrin in western Aleppo province with Kurdish areas to the east.

Turkey which still denies the constitutional existence of its own Kurds fears the creation of an autonomous Kurdish region in Syria — similar to the Kurdish region in northern Iraq — would spur the separatist ambitions of Turkey’s own Kurds numbering to 22.5 million of the country’s 78-million population.

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