ANKARA/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Turkish-backed Syrian rebels superior into Ras al Ain in northeast Syria on Saturday however it was unclear how far they’d reached, with Turkey saying the city heart had been taken and Kurdish-led forces denying this and saying they have been counter-attacking.
Turkish military automobiles and army personnel are stationed close to the Turkish-Syrian border in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, October 12, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
The battle for Ras al Ain raged as Turkey pursued a four-day-old, cross-border offensive towards a Syrian Kurdish militia regardless of an outcry from the USA and European Union and warnings of potential sanctions except Ankara desisted.
Washington mentioned Turkey’s incursion was inflicting “nice hurt” in relations with its NATO ally. The Arab League’s head known as it “an invasion of an Arab state’s land”. nL2N26W1FT]
The Turkish assault has raised alarm about its humanitarian fall-out. The regional Kurdish-led administration in Syria’s northeast mentioned almost 200,000 folks had been displaced consequently, whereas the U.N. World Meals Programme put the determine at greater than 100,000 within the cities of Tel Abyad and Ras al Ain.
Turkey started its onslaught towards the Kurdish YPG militia, which it sees as a terrorist group, after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew some U.S. troops who had been backing Kurdish forces within the struggle towards Islamic State militants.
“The (Syrian insurgent) nationwide military took management of (Ras al Ain) city heart this morning,” a senior Turkish safety official mentioned. “Inspections are being carried out in residential areas. Mine and booby entice searches are being carried out.”
Turkey’s Defence Ministry subsequently mentioned Ras al Ain had been introduced underneath management, with officers posting photographs exhibiting abandoned streets and Syrian rebels standing on Kurdish militia flags.
However the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), wherein the YPG contains the primary combating ingredient, swiftly denied shedding the middle of Ras al Ain.
Marvan Qamishlo, an SDF spokesman, mentioned Turkish-backed forces had entered the city’s industrial district following hours of heavy Turkish shelling that had compelled the SDF right into a “tactical retreat” from that space.
“Now the SDF’s assault has began and there are very fierce clashes now,” he advised Reuters. “The clashes are persevering with within the industrial district,” he mentioned, saying this was the a part of Ras al Ain closest to the border.
In response, the senior Turkish official mentioned combating was occurring in “two small areas” of Ras al Ain however that “almost all” YPG forces had fled to the south. Turkish artillery continued to bombard elements of the city, a Reuters reporter mentioned.
Turkish forces had in a single day stepped up their bombardment of Ras al Ain of their incursion, after U.S. troops within the neighborhood got here underneath artillery hearth from Turkish positions.
TURKEY SEEKS “SAFE ZONE”
Within the newest worldwide censure of the assault, Arab League Secretary Normal Ahmed Aboul Gheit on Saturday known as it an “invasion of an Arab state’s land and an aggression on its sovereignty”.
Iraqi Overseas Minister Mohamed Ali Alhakim, president of the present Arab League session, additionally condemned the offensive throughout an emergency assembly for the physique. He known as on the League to reinstate Syria’s membership within the physique.
Erdogan has dismissed the mounting condemnation of the operation and mentioned on Friday night that Turkey “won’t cease it, it doesn’t matter what anybody says”.
Turkey goals to arrange a “secure zone” inside Syria to resettle most of the three.6 million Syrian battle refugees it has been internet hosting. Erdogan threatened to ship them to Europe if the EU didn’t again his assault.
On Saturday morning, thick plumes of smoke rose round Ras al Ain, one in all two Syrian border cities focused within the offensive, as Turkish artillery pounded the world. Intense gunfire additionally resounded inside Ras al Ain within the early hours, whereas warplanes might be heard flying overhead.
It was quieter at Tel Abyad, the operation’s different principal goal some 120 km (75 miles) to the west, with solely occasional shelling heard within the space, a Reuters reporter mentioned.
The Turkish-backed SDF mentioned earlier they’d minimize a street linking Ras al Ain and Tel Abyad and had captured 18 villages for the reason that operation started.
U.S. TROOPS UNDER FIRE
On Friday, the Pentagon mentioned U.S. troops got here underneath artillery hearth from Turkish emplacements although none of its troopers have been wounded close to the Syrian border city of Kobani, 60 km (37 miles) west of the primary space of battle.
Turkey mentioned its forces didn’t shoot again on the U.S. base and took all precautions to forestall any hurt to it whereas it was responding to YPG hearth from a close-by space.
“U.S. and coalition troopers have been positively not hit. Certainly the required coordination is being carried out by our headquarters and the People,” Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar was quoted as saying on Saturday.
Seventy-four Kurdish-led fighters, 49 Turkey-backed Syrian rebels and 30 civilians have been killed within the combating, in accordance with Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a battle monitor.
Turkey mentioned 415 YPG militants had been “neutralized” for the reason that operation started, a time period that generally means killed.
In a single day a automobile bomb exploded exterior the wall of the jail in Hasaka in northeast Syria, inflicting severe harm however no casualties, an announcement from safety forces within the area mentioned. It didn’t say if any Islamic State prisoners had escaped.
The SDF’s Qamishlo mentioned the assault was carried out by Islamic State (IS) sleeper cells.
The SDF holds a lot of the northern Syrian territory that when made up Islamic State’s “caliphate” within the nation, and has been holding hundreds of fighters from the jihadist group in jail and tens of hundreds of their members of the family in camps.
The SDF says the Turkish assault may enable the jihadist group to re-emerge. In its first large assault for the reason that assault started, IS claimed duty for a lethal automobile bomb in Qamishli, the most important metropolis within the Kurdish-held space.
5 IS militants fled a jail there, and international ladies from the group being held in a camp torched tents and attacked guards with sticks and stones, the SDF mentioned.
U.S. Protection Secretary Mark Esper has advised his Turkish counterpart they need to de-escalate the battle earlier than the state of affairs turns into “irreparable”.
Erdogan’s spokesman rebuffed the criticism on Saturday, saying “Turkey’s struggle is towards terrorists, not Kurds or civilians”. The spokesman advised those that condemn Turkey that hundreds of civilians have been killed in earlier U.S.-led coalition operations in Syria’s Raqqa and Iraq’s Mosul.
“Blackmail and threats won’t ever deter Turkey from its simply trigger,” Ibrahim Kalin wrote on Twitter. “God prepared victory shall be ours.”
U.S. lawmakers launched extra laws on Friday in search of stiff sanctions on Turkey over the offensive, underscoring unhappiness from each Democrats and President Trump’s fellow Republicans in Congress over his Syria coverage.
U.S. army officers denied lawmakers’ accusations that Washington deserted U.S. allies. Ankara says it goals to defeat the YPG, which it sees as an enemy for its hyperlinks to Kurdish militants who’ve waged an insurgency in Turkey since 1984.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin mentioned Trump had licensed the drafting of “very vital” new sanctions towards Turkey and would activate them if essential.
Reporting by Daren Butler, Tom Perry in Beirut, Omar Fahmy in Cairo and Reuters correspondents within the area; Enhancing by Mark Heinrich