Sarah El Deeb

BEIRUT: Backed by Turkish tanks and reports of airstrikes, Turkey-allied Syrian rebels clashed with Kurdish-led forces in northeastern Syria in a new escalation that further complicates the already protracted Syrian conflict.

Turkey’s military didn’t specify what the airstrikes hit, saying only that “terror groups” were targeted south of the village of Jarablus, where the clashes later ensued. A Kurdish-affiliated group said their forces were the target and called the attack an “unprecedented and dangerous escalation.” If confirmed, it would be the first Turkish airstrikes against Kurdish allied forces on Syrian soil.

Late Saturday night, Turkey’s official news agency reported that one Turkish solider had been killed and three wounded by what it said was a Kurdish rocket attack in Jarablus, near where the fighting has raged. It is the first reported Turkish fatality in Syria.

The new escalation highlights concerns that Turkey’s incursion into Syria in the past week could lead to an all-out confrontation between Ankara and Syrian Kurds, both American allies, and hinder the war against the Islamic State group by diverting resources.

Sherwan Darwish, a spokesman for Kurdish-led forces in the village of Manbij, said on Twitter Saturday night: “While our forces fighting #IS Some #Turkey backed militias r attacking our positions & hampering our & Intl Coalition’s fight against terror.”

The clashes underscore Ankara’s determination to push back Kurdish forces from along its borders, and curb their ambitions to form a contiguous entity in northern Syria. Kurdish groups have already declared a semi-autonomous administration in Syria and control most of the border area.

Jarablus and Manbij to the south were liberated from IS fighters by Kurdish-led forces earlier this month. They are essential to connecting the western and eastern semi-autonomous Kurdish areas in Syria.

Turkish officials said they will continue their offensive in Syria until there is no longer any “terror” threat to Turkey from its war-torn neighbor. Ankara backed Syrian rebels to gain control of Jarablus last week. They are now pushing their way south.

On Saturday, the Syrian rebels said they had seized a number of villages south of Jarablus from IS militants and Kurdish forces.

Meanwhile, the U.N. special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, appealed to the opposition to approve plans to deliver aid to rebel-held eastern Aleppo and government-held Aleppo through a government-controlled route north of Aleppo during a 48-hour humanitarian pause.

“People are suffering and need assistance. Time is of the essence,” de Mistura said in a statement, urging an approval by Sunday.

But violence raged. Suspected government helicopters dropped two barrel bombs on a wake held for children killed a few days earlier, killing at least 15, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

An Aleppo activist group put the death toll higher at 24.