THE Turkish air force has struck pro-government Syrian fighters deployed last week in the Kurdish enclave of Afrin, killing and wounding a number of them.

The incident, which targeted two positions of the pro-Syrian force, marks an escalation of violence in a region where Turkey has been on the offensive for more than a month.

Turkish troops and Turkey-backed opposition fighters have operated in Afrin since January 20 against Syrian Kurdish fighters. Ankara has also warned Damascus not to send fighters to the area, saying that it would target them.

Turkey considers Syrian Kurdish fighters to be “terrorists” linked to a Kurdish insurgency inside its own borders. The pro-government Syrian force began deploying in Afrin on February 20, despite Turkey’s threats. Syrian state media said the aim is to defend Afrin.

The air strikes mark a major escalation between Turkey, the main backer of Syria’s opposition fighters trying to remove President Bashar Assad from power, and Syrian pro-government forces, backed by Iran.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the air strikes took place late yesterday in the village of Jamaa and killed 17 fighters of the force known as the Popular Forces.

Turkish forces killed 20 people in Afrin and Turkish warplanes killed 18 pro-government gunmen, while 19 more are missing, according to local news agencies.