BEIRUT (AP) — Turkish army units have opened fire on fighters from the main Kurdish force in northern Syria deployed across the border in a majority Arab town, the Kurdish force and an allied rebel said Monday.
There was no immediate comment from Turkish officials on the shooting.
The U.S.-supported Kurdish militia known as the YPG said on its official Facebook page that Turkish military shot at its forces deployed in the town of Tal Abyad twice Sunday, using mostly machine guns. An allied rebel fighter from a contingent of Free Syrian Army fighters called Volcano of the Euphrates, Sharfan Darwish, said no one was injured in the shooting and the Kurdish forces didn't return fire.
Kurdish fighters expelled Islamic State militants from the town in June, dealing a major blow to the extremist group's abilities to access supply routes across the Turkish borders. Last week, Tal Abyad — which has a majority Arab population — was declared an independent administration allied with the semi-autonomous Kurdish enclave in northern Syria.
The Kurdish capture of the town, and its subsequent inclusion under the semi-autonomous enclave, has irked neighboring Turkey, which fears the expansion of the influence of the Kurds, who represent about one fifth of Turkish population. A Kurdish insurgent group in Turkey is affiliated with Syria's main political force and its allied fighters, the YPG, and has demands for greater autonomy and rights.
On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan railed against the Kurdish forces in Syria, accusing them of working with IS to seize more lands. He also criticized the declaration of an independent administration in Tal Abyad.
"This has started to become a threat for Turkey. Turkey will do whatever is necessary. Everyone should know that," Erdogan said.
Erdogan's spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, accused the Kurdish administration of undermining Syria's unity, accusing it in an interview with Turkish NTV television on Monday of displacing the Arab population of Tal Abyad.
A Kurdish politician Omar Alloush from Tal Abyad sought to underplay the tension, saying the shooting could have been targeting smugglers.
Syria's Kurds, the country's largest ethnic minority group long ostracized under the central government, declared a semi-autonomous administration in 2013. They have also proved a reliable ally of the U.S. Backed by U.S. airstrikes, Kurdish fighters have pushed IS militants out of several major towns in northern Syria.
But many, including rights groups, accused the Kurds of displacing Arab populations from towns and villages they controlled. The U.N. refugee agency at the time said the Kurdish advance on Tal Abyad caused the displacement of about 23,000 people who fled the fighting to Turkey. Amnesty International accused the Kurdish authorities of intentionally displacing thousands of Arab residents later, some in retaliation for perceived support to IS — charges that the Kurds denied.
On Friday, anti-IS and anti-government activists living in the IS-held city of Raqqa criticized the YPG for claiming the administration of Tal Abyad, which was previously under Raqqa province, saying it is an attempt to "change the identity of the town administratively, political and demographically." The group known as Raqqa is being Slaughtered posted the activists' statement.
"It is a short-sighted move that threatens the territorial integrity of Syria," the statement said.
Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.