US forces airdropped small arms ammunition and other supplies to Syrian Arab rebels following the start of Russia's air campaign in the country, it was revealed on Monday — as the release of an Amnesty International report documenting evidence of alleged war crimes by the YPG, a Kurdish militia which is an American ally.
Meanwhile, two shells were fired at Russia's embassy in Damascus on Tuesday during a demonstration in support of Moscow, but there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage to the building.
One witness said both shells appeared to land in a park close to the embassy compound. A second witness said one of them landed inside the compound but did not hit the building itself.
Ahead of a meeting today with the United Nations' special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: "This is an obvious act of terrorism, probably aimed at intimidating supporters of the fight against terrorism."
One military official said the American arms drop, by Air Force C-17 cargo planes in northern Syria on Sunday, was part of a revamped US strategy announced last week to help rebels in Syria battling Islamic State (IS) militants. A US source told CNN that 50 tons of ammunition on 112 pallets were dropped to a coalition of rebels groups vetted by the US, known as the Syrian Arab Coalition.
The group is fighting alongside the Kurdish YPG as part of a new rebel grouping around 3,200-strong known as the Democratic Forces of Syria.
Syrian Arab rebels said they had been told by Washington that new weapons were on their way to help them launch a joint offensive with their Kurdish allies on the city of Raqqa, the de facto IS capital.
On Tuesday, Turkey warned the United States and Russia it would not tolerate Kurdish territorial gains by Kurdish militia close to its borders in north-western Syria, two senior officials said.
Turkey fears advances by Kurdish YPG militia, backed by its PYD political wing, on the Syrian side of its 900 km (560-mile) border will fuel separatist ambitions among Kurds in its own southeastern territories. But Washington has supported YPG fighters as an effective force in combating Islamic State (IS).
Turkey has accused the Kurdish militia of pursuing "demographic change" in northern Syria by forcibly displacing Turkmen and Arab communities. Ankara fears ultimately the creation of an independent Kurdish state occupying contiguous territories currently belonging to Iraq, Syria and Turkey.
Amnesty International on Tuesday accused the YPG, which has seized swathes of northern Syria from IS this year, of committing war crimes by driving out thousands of non-Kurdish civilians and destroying their homes. Its report claims the forced displacement was often retribution for perceived sympathy with IS and other armed groups.
"By deliberately demolishing civilian homes, in some cases razing and burning entire villages, displacing their inhabitants with no justifiable military grounds, the Autonomous Administration (YPG) is abusing its authority and brazenly flouting international humanitarian law, in attacks that amount to war crimes," Lama Fakih, Senior Crisis Advisor at Amnesty International, said in a statement sent to VICE News.
The Kurds, who have emerged as the US-led coalition's most capable partner in Syria against Islamic State on the ground, say the allegations are false. They say those who left areas they seized did so to escape fighting and are welcome to return.
On Monday, the YPG announced a new alliance with small groups of Arab fighters, which could help deflect criticism that it fights only on behalf of Kurds. Washington has indicated it could direct funding and weapons to Arab commanders on the ground who cooperate with the YPG.
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