ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey stepped up its air and artillery strikes on Kurdish militia in northeast Syria on Friday, escalating an offensive that has drawn warnings of humanitarian disaster and turned Republican lawmakers towards U.S. President Donald Trump.
The incursion, launched after Trump withdrew U.S. troops who had been combating alongside Kurdish forces towards Islamic State militants, has opened a brand new entrance within the eight-year-old Syrian civil battle and drawn fierce worldwide criticism.
In Washington, Trump – heading off accusations that he deserted the Kurds, loyal allies of the USA – instructed that Washington may mediate within the battle, whereas additionally elevating the potential for imposing sanctions on Turkey.
On Friday, Turkish warplanes and artillery struck round Syria’s Ras al Ain, one in every of two border cities which have been the main target of the offensive. Reuters journalists heard gunfire there from throughout the frontier within the Turkish city of Ceylanpinar.
A convoy of 20 armored autos carrying Turkish-allied Syrian rebels entered Syria from Ceylanpinar. Some made victory indicators, shouting “Allahu akbar” (God is best) and waving Syrian insurgent flags as they superior in direction of Ras al Ain.
Some 120 km (75 miles) to the west, Turkish howitzers resumed shelling close to the Syrian city of Tel Abyad, a witness stated.
“In these moments, Tel Abyad is seeing probably the most intense battles in three days,” Marvan Qamishlo, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) stated.
In a single day, clashes erupted at totally different factors alongside the border from Ain Diwar on the Iraqi frontier to Kobani, greater than 400 km to the west. Turkish and SDF forces exchanged shelling in Qamishli amongst different locations, the SDF’s Qamishlo stated.
“The entire border was on hearth,” he stated.
Turkish forces have seized 9 villages close to Ras al Ain and Tel Abyad, stated Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which screens the battle.
At the very least 32 fighters with the SDF and 34 Turkey-backed Syrian rebels have been killed in combating, whereas 10 civilians have been killed, Abdulrahman stated. The SDF stated 22 of its fighters had been killed on Wednesday and Thursday.
Turkey says it has killed a whole lot of SDF fighters within the operation and one Turkish soldier has been killed.
In Syria’s al Bab, some 150 km west of the offensive, some 500 Turkish-backed Syrian fighters had been set to move to Turkey to affix the operation, CNN Turk reported. It broadcast video of them performing Muslim prayers in army fatigues, their rifles laid down in entrance of them, earlier than departing for Turkey.
Turkey says the aim of its assault is to defeat the Kurdish YPG militia, which it sees as an enemy for its hyperlinks to insurgents in Turkey. It says it goals to arrange a “secure zone” inside Syria, the place it might probably resettle lots of the three.6 million refugees it has been internet hosting.
Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan criticized Europe for failing to assist the Turkish offensive and threatened to ship refugees to Europe if the EU didn’t again him.
European Council President Donald Tusk responded on Friday by chastising Erdogan for making the risk.
“Turkey should perceive that our essential concern is that their actions might result in one other humanitarian disaster,” he stated.
The Worldwide Rescue Committee support group says 64,000 individuals in Syria have fled within the first days of the marketing campaign.
The Kurdish YPG is the primary combating aspect of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which have acted because the principal allies of the USA in a marketing campaign that recaptured territory held by the Islamic State group.
The SDF now holds many of the territory that after made up Islamic State’s “caliphate” in Syria, and has been conserving hundreds of Islamic State fighters in jail and tens of hundreds of their relations in camps.
A camp sheltering greater than 7,000 displaced individuals in northern Syria is to be evacuated and there are talks on shifting a second camp for 13,000 individuals together with Islamic State fighters’ households, after each had been shelled, Kurdish-led authorities stated.
Medecins Sans Frontieres stated a hospital in Tel Abyad had been pressured to close after most of its employees fled from bombings over the previous 24 hours.
RARE REPUBLICAN CRITICISM OF TRUMP
In the USA, Trump’s resolution to withhold safety from the Kurds has been one of many few points to immediate criticism from his fellow Republicans, together with main allies on Capitol Hill similar to Senator Lindsey Graham.
Trump stated in a Twitter publish on Thursday: “We now have one in every of three selections: Ship in hundreds of troops and win Militarily, hit Turkey very onerous Financially and with Sanctions, or mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds!”.
“I hope we are able to mediate,” Trump stated when requested in regards to the choices by reporters on the White Home.
With out elaborating, he stated the USA was “going to presumably do one thing very, very powerful with respect to sanctions and different monetary issues” towards Turkey.
Western nations’ rejection of the Turkish offensive creates a rift throughout the NATO alliance, wherein Turkey is the primary Muslim member.
NATO Secretary Normal Jens Stoltenberg stated after talks with International Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Istanbul that he anticipated Turkey to behave with restraint in Syria. Cavusoglu stated Ankara anticipated “sturdy solidarity” from the alliance.
Stoltenberg additionally advised reporters the worldwide neighborhood should discover a sustainable resolution for Islamic State prisoners in Syria.
French International Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has known as for an emergency assembly of the U.S.-led coalition of greater than 30 nations created to battle Islamic State. France’s European affairs minister stated subsequent week’s EU summit will focus on sanctions on Turkey over its motion in Syria.
Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that Islamic State militants may escape from jail because of the Turkish offensive, the Interfax information company reported.
Reporting by Daren Butler and Tom Perry; Further reporting by John Irish in Paris, Emma Farge in Geneva, Anton Kolodyazhnyy in Moscow, Jan Strupczewski in Brussels and Reuters correspondents within the area; Modifying by Peter Graff