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France steps up military presence along Syria-Iraq border

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Members of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and US soldiers (L) gather at the al-Tanak oil field as they prepare to relaunch an attack near Abu Kamal in Dayr al-Zawr province, eastern Syria on May 1, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

France has expanded its military presence in Syria, joining the United States in its support for Kurdish militants that are accused of being used by the US to partition the Arab country.

Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency reported on Sunday that French special forces had established six artillery batteries in eastern Syria along the border with Iraq, which are controlled by the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

The news agency quoted local sources as saying that the new artillery batteries, located north of Baguz village in Syria’s eastern province of Dayr al-Zawr, had fired their first shots.

The US-led coalition confirmed on Twitter that "artillery from France" was supporting the SDF forces in an alleged attack on Daesh terrorists to the east of the Euphrates River in eastern Syria.

The US and its allies have been bombarding what they call Daesh positions inside Syria since September 2014 without any authorization from the Damascus government or a UN mandate. The strikes, however, have on many occasions resulted in civilian casualties and failed to fulfill their declared aim of countering terrorism.

The Kurdish-dominated SDF is composed largely of militants from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), an anti-Damascus outfit regarded by Turkey as the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The SDF militants, mainly active in the eastern part of the Euphrates River, are purportedly fighting against the remnants of the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group, which has already been driven out of all its urban bastions both in Iraq and Syria.

Damascus regards them as unwelcome armed forces occupying parts of the Syrian territory without the consent of the central government.

A pro-opposition monitoring group said the SDF, backed by artillery support from allied American and French forces, was advancing on Sunday against Daesh in eastern Syria near the border with Iraq.

Earlier this month, SDF militants and US troops launched an operation in a small sliver of desert territory near the Iraqi border, where Daesh controls the main villages of Hajjin, Sousa and al-Shaafa in Dayr al-Zawr.

People buy fruits and vegetables at a market in the Syrian city of Raqqah on May 17, 2018, during the holy month of Ramadan. (Photo by AFP)

The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the SDF was closing in on Hajjin on Sunday, a day after seizing a nearby hilltop.

"There are intense clashes around Hajjin, and the SDF is advancing thanks to American and French artillery fire," the head of the UK-based observatory, Rami Abdel Rahman, said.

According to the Anadolu agency, France has recently increased its military presence in some areas in Syria, including Manbij, Hasakah, Ayn Isa and Raqqah, which are controlled by the People's Protection Units (YPG).

Earlier this month, a top figure from the SDF said that 50 French soldiers had arrived in the Syrian city of Manbij and were building a military base in the northern part of the province.

Around 250 French troops are reportedly active in SDF-held regions in northern Syria, Anadolu said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said this month that US military buildup in the eastern side of the Euphrates River was threatening Syria's unity and was actually aimed at partitioning the country.

Last month, France joined the US in its airstrikes on Syria over an alleged chemical attack in the Syrian town of Douma.

Washington and its allies blamed Damascus for the suspected assault but the Syrian government strongly denied the allegation and called on the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to send a fact-finding mission for investigations.

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