Turkish soldiers transit at a street with vehicles and tanks as they prepare for a military operation at the Syrian border as part of their offensive against the so-called Islamic State (ISIS or IS) militant group in Syria, in Karkamis district of Gaziantep, Turkey, 25 August 2016.
Photograph: EPA/SEDAT SUNA

Syrian rebels supported by Turkey and US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces clashed Thursday in the north of the country, activists and Kurdish officials said, raising fears of a new confrontation over territory amid a Turkish led intervention.

Kurdish officials described the incidents as skirmishes which took place near Ain al-Bayda, just south of Jarabulus, a border town in northern Syria which the rebels wrested from Islamic State control on Wednesday.

Turkey launched its first major land offensive inside Syria on Wednesday, with tanks backed by airstrikes taking part in an operation to capture Jarabulus alongside more than 1,000 Syrian opposition fighters, according to rebels.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that the operations were targetting both Islamic State and the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) whose armed wing has been the key US ally on the ground against the jihadists.

The PYD's militia, the People's Protection Units (YPG), meanwhile said it had handed over the key city of Minbij, south of Jarabulus, to local civil and military councils set up by its allies, apparently in line with what the Turkish government is demanding.

Kurdish forces captured Minbij in mid-August after a gruelling ten-week campaign backed by US airstrikes. The group said more than 260 of its members and allies were killed by Islamic State.

Their move was intended to cut Islamic State off from its last access to the Turkish border in the Jarabulus region, and make it harder for it to bring supplies and fighters to its de facto Syrian capital of al-Raqqa and the rest of its territories in Syria and Iraq.

However, it raised fears in Ankara and among the Syrian opposition of Kurdish expansionism, in particular that the Kurds might seek to strike further west and link up Minbij with their enclave of Efrin in north-west Syria.

Ankara is particularly concerned about Kurdish advances because they view the PYD and YPG as the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which is fighting an insurgency inside Turkey.

US Vice President Joe Biden said this week that the Kurds must retreat eastwards, over the Euphrates River. Biden said the US would otherwise cut off support.

"The whole zone, including Jarabulus, needs to be cleared of the PYD," Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said, referring to the wider Minbij area.

The spokesman for the US-led anti-Islamic State coalition said that most contingents of the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance dominated by the YPG, have moved back east across the Euphrates River, to the east. Some remained for mine clearing operations.

"The Syrian Democratic Forces have moved east across the Euphrates to prepare for the eventual liberation of Raqqa, Syria," spokesman Colonel John Dorrian wrote on his Twitter feed. Raqqa is the Islamic State's de-facto capital in Syria.

In Jarabulus, the victorious Syrian rebels - who appear to have captured the town without much resistance from Islamic State - said that they had also taken control of several villages on the border which had been held by the jihadists.

Rami Abdulrahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a watchdog, said it was abnormal for Islamic State to withdraw without a fight. He said their fighters simply "left the area."

Turkey, a staunch backer of various Syrian rebel factions, appears keen to set up a buffer zone in northern Syria.

Turkish media reported that Turkey's army was rolling in more tanks into Syria on Thursday.

In the nearby Turkish city of Gaziantep, a fighter with one of the rebel factions involved in the Jarabulus offensive said that they would take on the Kurds as well if they had too.

The objectives of the operation included preventing the YPG establishing a contiguous territory across northern Syria, the fighter from the al-Jabha al-Shamiya faction told dpa on condition of anonymity.

Describing the powerful Kurdish forces as "a separatist group," he added: "If we must, we will also fight against the Kurds."

Among the rebel groups Turkey is backing in the offensive are ethnic Turkemn militias.

Despite the US support for the Turkish position in the area, the atmosphere inside Turkey remains largely anti-American, with pro-government newspapers sharply critical of Biden's trip to the country this week.

More on this story

US: Syrian Kurdish forces moved east over Euphrates

The spokesman for the US-led anti-Islamic State coalition says the Syrian Democratic Forces, a group comprising several factions but dominated by the Syrian Kurds, have moved back across the Euphrates River, to the east.

Biden says Syrian Kurds must retreat over Euphrates River

US Vice President Joe Biden says the Syrian Kurdish forces his country backs must go back across the Euphrates River to the east bank.

Syrian Kurds: Turkish offensive on Jarablus is "declaration of war"

Syrian Kurds condemn the Turkish incursion into Islamic State-held Jarablus, calling it a "declaration of war." 

Latest news

Merkel calls for fewer EU regulations as nationalist sentiments grow

As voters in the Netherlands, France and Germany show increasing support for nationalist, euro-sceptic political movements ahead of this year's elections, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for limits on EU regulations.

French prosecutors transfer Fillon case to investigative judge

The French judiciary has opened a formal investigation in connection with presidential candidate Francois Fillon to examine whether the employment of his wife as a parliamentary employee was a sham, the country's financial prosecutors' office said Friday.

White House bars major news outlets from press briefing

Major news organizations, which were Friday blocked by the White House from attending an informal press briefing, condemned the move just hours after President Donald Trump described parts of the media as "the enemy of the people."

Report: German intelligence spied on BBC, other foreign journalists

Germany's intelligence agency monitored foreign journalists at the BBC, the New York Times and other news organizations from 1999 onwards across several countries, according to a Friday report from Der Spiegel magazine.

Classroom for Islamic religious education opened in Split

A classroom for Islamic religious education, whose equipment was financially assisted by city and county authorities, was opened in the coastal city of Split on Friday.

Ministry say no licences for export of military goods to Saudi Arabia issued in 2016

The Economy, Enterprise and Crafts Ministry on Friday issued a statement regarding media reports about export licences for military goods, stressing that in 2016 it did not issue any licences for the export of military goods to Saudi Arabia.

Croatia for preserving Bosnia's stability

Croatia on Friday supported the stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), calling on its authorities to adopt decisions in institutions, after a request by BiH Presidency Bosniak member Bakir Izetbegovic to review a ruling which acquitted Serbia of genocide.

Mexico is not a migrant "waiting room" for US, interior minister says

Mexico will not accept undocumented immigrants from other countries whom the United States plans to deport, Mexico's interior minister said Friday.

Right-wing populist Wilders declines first Dutch election debate

Candidates from nine Dutch parties answered questions from journalists Friday at the first national radio debate of the election campaign, but the leading candidate

Bosnian Croat reps insist on channel airing programmes in Croatian

Being one of the constituent peoples, the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina are entitled to a broadcaster that will air programmes in their native language, HNS BiH official Ivan Vukoja said at a news conference in Mostar on Friday.

Same-sex couples in Slovenia can marry

A Slovenian law allowing same-sex couples to marry went into force on Friday and the first civil registrar ceremony, between two women, is to take place in Maribor on Saturday, the town's Vecer daily said.

Moody's changes Agrokor's outlook to negative

The Moody's rating agency on Friday changed its outlook for the Agrokor food retailer from stable to negative, affirming its rating of B3.