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[UPDATE] Turkey says it ‘neutralized’ at least 58 Kurdish militants in Syria

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Turkish forces have “neutralized” at least 58 Kurdish militants in northern Syria in overnight attacks on militant targets, the country’s defense ministry said on Saturday, as conflict in the region escalated nearly a week after a bomb attack in Ankara, Reuters reported.

Turkey this week said all targets belonging to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militia and the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia were “legitimate targets” for its forces after the PKK claimed responsibility for Sunday’s bombing in Ankara, which wounded two police officers and killed the two attackers.

Turkey said the attackers came from Syria, but the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which the YPG spearheads, denied this. Since the bomb attack, Ankara has launched a barrage of airstrikes and attacks against militant targets in northern Syria and Iraq while ramping up security operations at home.

“Targets belonging to PKK/YPG terrorists in northern Syria’s Euphrates Shield, Olive Branch and Peace Spring operation areas were hit strongly all night long,” the ministry said, referring to regions where Turkey has previously mounted incursions.

The ministry said the operations, which it says are carried out under self-defense rights, had “neutralized” 58 militants in the region. Ankara typically uses the term “neutralized” to mean killed.

Late on Friday, the ministry had said Turkey’s military had conducted air strikes in northern Syria, destroying 15 militant targets where it said militants were believed to be.

Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said on Saturday that police in the eastern province of Van had captured six people suspected of PKK links and in preparation for an attack. Following the bomb attack, authorities have carried out raids and operations across the country, seizing dozens of people.

Speaking at a ruling Justice and Development Party meeting in Ankara on Saturday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned that Turkey “may suddenly come one night,” a term he has often used to target militants in Syria and Iraq.

Turkey lists the YPG as a terrorist organization and says it is indistinguishable from the PKK, which has fought an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984, in which more than 40,000 people have been killed.

The United States and European Union deem the PKK a terrorist organization, but not the YPG.

The YPG is at the heart of the SDF forces in the US-led coalition against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant militants. US support for them has long caused tension with Turkey.

Underscoring the tension, the United States on Thursday shot down an armed Turkish drone that was operating near its troops in Syria, the first time Washington has brought down an aircraft of NATO ally Turkey.

Ankara and Washington held a series of calls following the incident, with Turkey saying deconfliction mechanisms with the parties on the ground would be improved but vowing to continue hitting militants in Syria and Iraq.

Turkey, which has mounted several incursions into northern Syria against the YPG, has said a ground operation into Syria is an option it could consider.

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