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Turkish troops target Kurdish fighters in northern Syria

BEIRUT (AP) — Turkish troops have shelled a Syrian village near the border, targeting Kurdish fighters who have been battling the Islamic State group with the aid of U.S.-led airstrikes, Syria’s main Kurdish militia and an activist group said Monday.

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, said the Sunday night shelling on the border village of Til Findire targeted one of their vehicles. It said Til Findire is east of the border town of Kobani, where the Kurds handed a major defeat to the Islamic State group earlier this year.

In cross-border strikes since Friday, Turkey has targeted both Kurdish fighters as well as the IS group, stepping up its involvement in Syria’s increasingly complex civil war. The Syrian Kurds are among the most effective ground forces battling the IS group, but Turkey fears they could revive an insurgency against Ankara in pursuit of an independent state.

On Monday the YPG and Syrian rebels captured the town of Sareen in northern Syria, which had been held by the Islamic State group, according to The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Aleppo Media Center in Syria, two activist groups that track the civil war.

A Turkish official said Turkish forces are only targeting the IS group in Syria and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, in neighboring Iraq.

The official said the “ongoing military operation seeks to neutralize imminent threats to Turkey’s national security and continues to target ISIS in Syria and the PKK in Iraq.”

“The PYD, along with others, remains outside the scope of the current military effort,” the official said, referring to the political arm of the YPG.

The official added that authorities were “investigating claims that the Turkish military engaged positions held by forces other than ISIS.”

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of rules that bar officials from speaking to journalists without authorization.

The YPG did not say in its Monday statement whether there were casualties in the shelling.

The YPG said Turkey first shelled Til Findire on Friday, wounding four fighters of the rebel Free Syrian Army and several local villagers. It urged Turkey to “halt this aggression and to follow international guidelines.”

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said four fighters were wounded in the village of Zor Maghar, which is also close to the Turkish border. Conflicting reports are common in the aftermath of violent incidents.

Earlier this month, Syria’s main Kurdish party, the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, warned Turkey that any military intervention would threaten international peace and said its armed wing, the YPG, would face any “aggression.”

Turkish police meanwhile raided homes in a neighborhood in the capital on Monday, detaining at least 15 people suspected of links to the Islamic State group, the state-run news agency said.

The Anadolu Agency said those detained in Ankara’s Haci Bayram neighborhood include a number of foreign nationals. It did not give details of the foreigners’ home countries.

Turkey has been carrying out airstrikes against IS targets in Syria and Kurdish rebel positions in northern Iraq. It has also arrested hundreds of people with suspected links to violent extremists.

On Sunday, it called for a meeting of its NATO allies to discuss threats to its security, as well as its airstrikes.

In comments published Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey and the United States had no plans to send ground troops into Syria but said they had agreed to provide air cover to moderate Syrian fighters.

“If we are not going to send land units to the ground — and we will not — then those forces acting as ground forces cooperating with us should be protected,” Davutoglu told a group of senior journalists over the weekend. His comments were published in Hurriyet newspaper.

Davutoglu also said Turkey wanted to clear its border of IS extremists.

“We don’t want to see Daesh at our border,” Hurriyet quoted Davutoglu as saying, using the Arabic acronym of the group. “We want to see the moderate opposition take its place.”

The Turkish leader also said Turkey’s action against the IS has “changed the regional game.”

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Frazer reported from Ankara, Turkey.

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