Turkish PM: Military Have Hit Kurdish Fighters in Syria

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in a television interview on Monday that the Turkish military has struck Kurdish fighters in Syria on two occasions in recent months.

The leader of the ruling Justice and Development (AKP) party said that Ankara had chosen to hit the Kurdish militiamen in northern Syria after they had defied warnings to not cross to the western side of the Euphrates River that runs through northern Syria and into Turkish territory.

Syrian-Kurdish fighters aligned to the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the Syrian-Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia operate in northern Syria near the Turkish border. The YPG have been active in fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) in northern Syria, including defending the Syrian-Turkish border city of Kobane from two assaults by the extremist group, one in October last year and another in June.

"We have said 'PYD will not cross west of the Euphrates, we will hit them the moment they do' and we have struck them twice," Davutoglu told Haber Television late on Monday, Reuters reports.

Davutoglu did not mention the dates of the incidents nor the locations or number of casualties. However, the YPG said in statements published over the weekend that the Turkish military had struck its forces near the Kurdish-held towns of Tel Abyad, which is east of the Euphrates, and Kobane, Reuters reported.

The Turkish government had marked the Euphrates River as a red line for Kurdish advances in northern Syria to halt further advances west as Turkey fears a strong Kurdish presence over the border in northern Syria, where they have captured a number of towns and villages from ISIS east of the Euphrates.

Turkey sees the PYD and the YPG as offshoots of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a Kurdish insurgent group that has fought a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish government. A two-year ceasefire collapsed in July amid escalating violence between Turkish forces and PKK militants.

While Turkey bombed PKK camps in northern Iraq in July, PKK fighters carried out a number of deadly attacks against Turkish authorities in the country's southeastern regions, where a large portion of the country's Kurdish population resides.

Emboldened Syrian-Kurdish factions on Turkey's southern border are viewed as a security concern for the Turkish government, who fear that Syrian-Kurdish advances will energize Turkey's Kurdish populations and their ambitions for self-determination.

Kurdish forces in northern Syria have also been accused of committing war crimes by rights group Amnesty International, which claimed earlier this month that Kurdish forces have demolished villages and forced Syrian Arabs from their homes.

The YPG has been a major ally for the U.S.-led coalition's military campaign against ISIS in Syria, forcing the group from territory and also supporting coalition airstrikes on the ground.

Last month, Davutoglu wrote to EU leaders requesting support for the creation of a "safe zone" in northern Syria in return for Ankara's cooperation on the refugee crisis. The move was raised by the Turkish government earlier in the year with the aim of creating an "ISIS-free zone" but to also counter the advances of Kurdish militiamen along the Turkish-Syrian border.