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SDF commander says Ankara devised plan for İstanbul bombing to justify war on Kurds in Syria

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The Turkish government devised the carrying out of a deadly explosion in İstanbul that killed six people and injured 81 to lay the groundwork for war on a US-backed Kurdish militia in northeast Syria, Mazloum Abdi, the commander-in-chief of Syria’s Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), said in an interview with Al-Monitor published on Tuesday.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has blamed the Nov. 13 bombing on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which operates rear-bases in northern Iraq.

On Monday Erdoğan renewed a longstanding threat to launch a cross-border ground operation into SDF-controlled areas of northeastern Syria, drawing calls for restraint from both Moscow and Washington.

Ankara vehemently opposes the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the main element of the US-backed SDF, because of its links to PKK militants who have waged a long insurgency in southeastern Turkey.

The SDF is the de facto army of the semi-autonomous Kurdish administration in northeastern Syria. It provided crucial assistance to a US-led coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorist group.

In an interview with Amberin Zaman of Al-Monitor, when asked whom he believes was responsible for the İstanbul bombing, Abdi said he believes “it was an act of provocation that was conceived by the Turkish government in order to lay the ground for the war against us.”

“We did a lot of research and have concluded that the attack was perpetrated by Syrian opposition groups operating under Turkey’s control,” he added.

Abdi also claimed that Ahlam Albashir, who was detained by Turkish police on suspicion of carrying out the bombing, comes from a family linked to ISIL.

“Three of her brothers died fighting for the Islamic State. One died in Raqqa, another in Manbij and a third died in Iraq. Another brother is a commander in the Turkish-backed Syrian opposition in Afrin. She was married to three different Islamic State fighters and the family is from Aleppo,” Abdi was quoted by Al-Monitor as saying.

The SDF commander said the most likely target of a potential Turkish ground offensive against the Kurdish-controlled areas would be his native city of Kobani.

Situated next to the Turkey’s border with Syria, Kobani, a bastion of Kurdish nationalism, is where the anti-ISIL alliance between the US-led coalition and the Syrian Kurds was formed.

Abdi said Russia and the United States need to take a firmer stance against what he called Turkish aggression toward Kurds following the dozens of Turkish airstrikes that claimed at least 11 civilian lives in the Kurdish-controlled area earlier this week.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Wednesday that Turkey’s military had hit nearly 500 Kurdish targets across Iraq and Syria as part of a campaign of airstrikes.

Ankara began the series of airstrikes as part of Operation Claw-Sword on Sunday.

“So far 471 targets have been struck and 254 terrorists were neutralized in the operation,” Akar was quoted as saying by the state-run Anadolu news agency.

According to the SDF commander, unless not opposed by Washington and Moscow, Turkey would likely make good on repeated threats to launch a ground offensive as it has done in two separate incursions in 2018 and 2019.

“We take these threats seriously. Unless there is a serious effort to deter Turkey, especially on the part of the United States and Russia, they will do it,” Abdi was quoted as saying.

Turkey has carried out three cross-border operations in Syria against ISIL as well as US-backed Kurdish militia and has frequently used factions of armed Syrian fighters in addition to its own forces.

Some of these fighters have been accused by human rights groups and the United Nations of indiscriminately attacking civilians and carrying out kidnappings and looting. The United Nations had asked Ankara to rein in these Syrian rebels, while Turkey rejected the allegations, calling them “baseless.”

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