Turkey pounds Syrian border towns, sparking exodus

Updated October 12, 2019

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AKCAKALE VILLAGE (Near the Turkey-Syria border): Tanks are lined up on Friday as Turkish soldiers and pro-Turkey Syrian fighters prepare to take part in fighting in northeastern Syria.—AFP
AKCAKALE VILLAGE (Near the Turkey-Syria border): Tanks are lined up on Friday as Turkish soldiers and pro-Turkey Syrian fighters prepare to take part in fighting in northeastern Syria.—AFP

RAS AIN: Turkey pressed its deadly offensive against Kurdish targets in Syria on Friday as it battled to seize key border towns on the third day of an operation that has forced thousands of civilians to flee.

President Donald Trump, whose order to pull back US troops from the border this week effectively triggered the intervention, said Washington would now seek to broker a truce.

US Defence Secretary Mark Esper for his part “strongly encouraged Tur­key to discontinue actions in north-eastern Syria” as a prelude to negotiations, a Pentagon statement said.

The Kurdish forces targeted by Turkey were the US-led coalition’s main ground partner in years of battle against the militant Islamic State group and its now-defunct “caliphate”.

In Al-Hol, a camp holding relatives of IS suspects which lies outside the area targeted by Turkey, women started riots on Friday that Kurdish forces swiftly put down.

The risk that thousands of the jihadists they still hold could break free on the back of the Turkish assault could yet spur the international community into action.

But as the offensive went into its third day, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces were fending for themselves, trying to repulse multiple ground attacks along a roughly 120-kilometre-long segment of the border.

“There is heavy fighting between the SDF and the Turks on different fronts, mostly from Tal Abyad to Ras al-Ain,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Britain-based war monitor said the Turkish forces and their Syrian proxies — mostly Sunni Arab ex-rebels — were deploying air strikes, heavy artillery and rocket fire.

The monitor said four civilians were killed in Tal Abyad when an air strike hit the car in which they were fleeing the fighting, while another three were shot dead by snipers around the border town.

That brings the civilian death toll to 17 on the Syrian side, while seven have been killed in Turkey.

According to the Obser­vatory, 41 SDF fighters have also been killed while Turkey has reported the death of only one soldier.

Outgunned Kurdish forces were putting up stiff resistance but experts predict they will not hold out very long without assistance.

The Observatory and a Kurdish military source said several Arab families in the border area had sided with Turkey, raising sleeper cells to attack from behind SDF lines.

A correspondent in the Ras al-Ain area said new units of Syrian former rebels were being brought in to break Kurdish resistance.

Ras al-Ain, Tal Abyad and other border towns between them have been almost emptied of their population in a huge wave of displacement.

Published in Dawn, October 12th, 2019