Tensions rise after Turkish attack on Syrian Kurds

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Russia on Wednesday criticized Turkey's airstrikes against Kurdish forces in Syria and Iraq, saying they hindered efforts to combat the Islamic State group, as Turkish troops and Syrian Kurdish fighters traded fire across the increasingly tense frontier.

The Turkish airstrikes on Tuesday killed 20 members of the People's Protection Units, or YPG, in Syria, and five peshmerga fighters in Iraq. Both Kurdish forces are close U.S. allies in the war against IS. Turkey said it struck rebels taking part in the Kurdish insurgency in its southeast.

Russia expressed "serious concern" about the strikes, which were also condemned by the Syrian and Iraqi governments.

"In a situation where the war on terror in Iraq and Syria is far from over, such actions clearly do not contribute to the consolidation of anti-terrorist efforts," the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

It also expressed concern that "the Turkish strikes were inflicted on the territory of sovereign states, bypassing their legitimate governments. We consider such actions unacceptable."

Russia is a close ally of the Syrian government, while Turkey supports the opposition. In recent months the two countries had cooperated in efforts to broker a permanent cease-fire in order to restart peace talks.

The YPG meanwhile asked the U.S.-led coalition battling IS to provide air cover over northern Syria, to protect them from Turkish and Syrian government air raids.

Syrian Kurdish officials escorted an American officer to some of the sites targeted in Tuesday's attack, as large crowds from the area followed them around, according to photos and video from the scene. YPG spokesman Redur Khalil confirmed the visit to The Associated Press.

Khalil said the Turkish army shelled Syrian villages along the border area Wednesday, prompting an exchange of fire between Kurdish and Turkish border posts. There were no reports of casualties.

The YPG form the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the main U.S. partner in the battle against IS in northern Syria. NATO member Turkey considers the YPG an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which has been waging an insurgency in Turkey since 1984. The SDF also includes Arab fighters.