ANKARA/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Turkish-backed Syrian rebels superior into Ras al Ain in northeast Syria on Saturday but it surely was unclear how far they’d reached, with Turkey saying the town middle had been taken and Kurdish-led forces denying this and saying they had been counter-attacking.
Turkish military autos 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 United States and European Union and warnings of potential sanctions except Ankara desisted.
Washington stated Turkey’s incursion was inflicting “great harm” in relations with its NATO ally. The Arab League’s head referred to 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 stated almost 200,000 folks had been displaced because of this, whereas the U.N. World Food 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 rebel) national army took control of (Ras al Ain) town center this morning,” a senior Turkish safety official stated. “Inspections are being conducted in residential areas. Mine and booby trap searches are being carried out.”
Turkey’s Defence Ministry subsequently stated Ras al Ain had been introduced underneath management, with officers posting photographs exhibiting abandoned streets and Syrian rebels standing on Kurdish militia flags.
But the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), during which the YPG contains the primary fighting factor, swiftly denied shedding the middle of Ras al Ain.
Marvan Qamishlo, an SDF spokesman, stated Turkish-backed forces had entered the town’s industrial district following hours of heavy Turkish shelling that had pressured the SDF right into a “tactical retreat” from that space.
“Now the SDF’s attack has started and there are very fierce clashes now,” he informed Reuters. “The clashes are continuing in the industrial district,” he stated, saying this was the a part of Ras al Ain closest to the border.
In response, the senior Turkish official stated fighting was happening in “two small areas” of Ras al Ain however that “nearly all” YPG forces had fled to the south. Turkish artillery continued to bombard components of the town, a Reuters reporter stated.
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 fireplace from Turkish positions.
TURKEY SEEKS “SAFE ZONE”
In the most recent worldwide censure of the assault, Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit on Saturday referred to as it an “invasion of an Arab state’s land and an aggression on its sovereignty”.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohamed Ali Alhakim, president of the present Arab League session, additionally condemned the offensive throughout an emergency assembly for the physique. He referred to as on the League to reinstate Syria’s membership within the physique.
Erdogan has dismissed the mounting condemnation of the operation and stated on Friday night that Turkey “will not stop it, no matter what anyone says”.
Turkey goals to arrange a “safe zone” inside Syria to resettle lots of the three.6 million Syrian conflict 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 could possibly be heard flying overhead.
It was quieter at Tel Abyad, the operation’s different important goal some 120 km (75 miles) to the west, with solely occasional shelling heard within the space, a Reuters reporter stated.
The Turkish-backed SDF stated earlier they’d reduce a highway linking Ras al Ain and Tel Abyad and had captured 18 villages because the operation started.
U.S. TROOPS UNDER FIRE
On Friday, the Pentagon stated U.S. troops got here underneath artillery fireplace from Turkish emplacements although none of its troopers had been wounded close to the Syrian border town of Kobani, 60 km (37 miles) west of the primary space of battle.
Turkey stated 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 fireplace from a close-by space.
“U.S. and coalition soldiers were definitely not hit. Indeed the necessary coordination is being carried out by our headquarters and the Americans,” 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 fighting, in accordance with Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a conflict monitor.
Turkey stated 415 YPG militants had been “neutralized” because the operation started, a time period that generally means killed.
Overnight a automotive bomb exploded exterior the wall of the jail in Hasaka in northeast Syria, inflicting critical injury however no casualties, an announcement from safety forces within the area stated. It didn’t say if any Islamic State prisoners had escaped.
The SDF’s Qamishlo stated the assault was carried out by Islamic State (IS) sleeper cells.
The SDF holds many of the northern Syrian territory that after made up Islamic State’s “caliphate” within the nation, and has been maintaining 1000’s of fighters from the jihadist group in jail and tens of 1000’s of their relations in camps.
The SDF says the Turkish assault may permit the jihadist group to re-emerge. In its first huge assault because the assault started, IS claimed duty for a lethal automotive bomb in Qamishli, the biggest metropolis within the Kurdish-held space.
Five 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 stated.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has informed his Turkish counterpart they need to de-escalate the battle earlier than the scenario turns into “irreparable”.
Erdogan’s spokesman rebuffed the criticism on Saturday, saying “Turkey’s fight is against terrorists, not Kurds or civilians”. The spokesman informed those that condemn Turkey that 1000’s of civilians had been killed in earlier U.S.-led coalition operations in Syria’s Raqqa and Iraq’s Mosul.
“Blackmail and threats will never deter Turkey from its just cause,” Ibrahim Kalin wrote on Twitter. “God willing victory will be ours.”
U.S. lawmakers launched extra laws on Friday looking for 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 stated Trump had licensed the drafting of “very significant” new sanctions towards Turkey and would activate them if crucial.
Reporting by Daren Butler, Tom Perry in Beirut, Omar Fahmy in Cairo and Reuters correspondents within the area; Editing by Mark Heinrich