A Turkish soldier stands near his armored vehicle near the town of Ain Issa in north Syria, November 26, 2019 (Bakr Alkasem/AFP/Getty)
Turkish-backed anti-Assad fighters have clashed with Kurdish militia near the town of Ain Issa in northern Syria.
There have been periodic skirmishes near the Turkish-Syrian border, with Ain Issa near the frontline of a northwest Syria controlled by Turkish-supported anti-Assad groups and a northeast Syria with a Kurdish autonomous authority.
But the pro-opposition Step Agency reported that Friday’s fighting was the most intense so far.
Sources with the Turkey-backed Syrian National Army said the force seized some farmland on the edge of Ain Issa and occupied the villages of al-Jahbel and al-Musharrafa to the east.
A commander of the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces told Kurdish media that the attack was thwarted, but shelling hit parts of the town.
To the north of Ain Issa, Russia and Turkey have established joint patrols along the east-west M4 highway. However, the situation is further complicated by Russian pressure on the Kurdish factions to hand over the town to the Assad regime.
Capture of Ain Issa, with its strategic position on the M4, would cut it off from other Kurdish-controlled cities such as Raqqa, Kobani, Manbij and Qamishli.
With American support, the SDF defeated the Islamic State in Ain Issa and Raqqa to the south in 2017. However, the Turkish Government considers the Kurdish YPG militia, the leading element in the SDF, to be part of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK.
In early 2018, Turkey and anti-Assad factions overran the Kurdish canton of Afrin in northwest Syria.