Kurdish-led forces in northern Syria have called on Russia to dissuade Turkey from launching a threatened ground offensive against them, their commander said on Tuesday.
Turkey has carried out air strikes against semi-autonomous Kurdish zones in north and northeastern Syria, as well as Iraq, since a deadly Istanbul bombing it blames on Kurdish groups.
It has also threatened a ground offensive in those areas of Syria.
“We urged them (the Russians) to stop the Turkish attacks,” said Mazloum Abdi, commander-in-chief of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurds’ de facto army in northern Syria.
“The Turks insist on launching an operation on the ground. They are preparing for it… for us, it will be a battle for our existence,” he added.
Turkey accuses Kurdish groups of being behind the bombing that killed six people in Istanbul on November 13, including the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which dominates the SDF.
Kurdish groups and authorities have denied responsibility for the Istanbul attack.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last week that Turkey was more determined than ever to secure its border with Syria from attacks by Kurdish forces, threatening a ground operation “at the most convenient time.”
— MOHAMMED HASSAN (@MHJournalist) November 23, 2022
Both Russia, an ally of the Syrian government, and the United States have called for de-escalation.
Abdi called on foreign powers to respect a 2019 Russian-brokered agreement that saw Syrian government forces deploy along the northern border in exchange for Turkey halting an earlier offensive.
“We have no problem increasing the number of government troops,” said the SDF commander, who met with the chief of Russian forces in Syria at the weekend.
The Syrian government does not recognize the US-backed Kurdish administration’s self-rule in the country’s north.
Since 2016, Turkey has launched several incursions against Kurdish forces in northern Syria that have allowed it to control areas along the border.
Erdogan has vowed to protect Turkey’s southern frontier and has long sought to establish a “safe zone” with a depth of 30 kilometers (19 miles) inside Syria.
Abdi, who has long criticized the “weak” response of SDF ally Washington, appealed for a “stronger stance from all parties involved to stop the attack.”
If Turkey carries out its threats, “we will be forced to expand the scope of the war” to include the entire Syrian border, he said.
US troops support the SDF, which led the battle that dislodged the Islamic State group from the last scraps of Syrian territory held by the jihadist group in 2019.
Around 75 people, most of them SDF and allied fighters but also civilians and Syrian soldiers, have been killed in Turkey’s latest strikes, said the Syrian Observatory for Human rights, a Britain-based war monitor.