Syrian troops sent north to ‘confront’ Turkish attack

Updated October 14, 2019

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AKCAKALE: Smoke rises above the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, as seen from this Turkish town on the border 
with Syria. — Reuters
AKCAKALE: Smoke rises above the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, as seen from this Turkish town on the border with Syria. — Reuters

DAMASCUS: The Syrian army has sent troops to “confront the Turkish aggression” in the north of the country where Ankara is battling Kurdish-led forces, the state news agency SANA said on Sunday.

“Syrian ... army units move north to confront Turkish aggression on Syrian territory,” SANA said, without giving further details.

The report came as a Kurdish official said that “negotiations” were underway between the Kurds and the Damascus government.

“All the options are being examined in the face of the Turkish offensive,” the Kurdish official said.

“The (Damascus) government must assume its responsibilities to confront the aggression.” On Sunday Turkish forces and their proxies pushed deeper into Syria, on the fifth day of the offensive, as Washington announced it was withdrawing its 1,000 troops from the country’s north.

Fighting raged, but Turkish-backed forces made significant progress along the border, despite an international outcry over the operation which has left dozens of civilians and fighters dead and displaced tens of thousands.

Turkish forces and their proxies pushed deep into Syria, moving closer to completing their assault’s initial phase.

The Kurdish administration in northern Syria said that Turkish bombardment near a camp for the displaced led to nearly 800 relatives of IS members fleeing.

Fighting raged but Turkish-backed forces made significant progress along the border on the fifth day of an offensive that has provoked an international outcry and left dozens of civilians and fighters dead.

Kurdish authorities and foreign powers have warned repeatedly that the hostilities could undermine the fight against the IS and allow jihadists to break out of captivity.

Fighting has engulfed the area since Wednesday when Ankara launched a long-threatened offensive against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who it considers “terrorists” linked to insurgents inside Turkey.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself, shrugging off the threat of sanctions, said the aim was to establish a “security zone” that would extend 30 to 35 kilometres (20 to 25 miles) into Syria and run from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border, a stretch of almost 500 kilometres.

Trump has been accused of abandoning a loyal ally in the fight against IS after ordering American troops to pull back from the border, which Ankara took as a green light to move in.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 26 civilians were killed on Sunday in northeast Syria, including an unidentified journalist who died in a Turkish air strike on a convoy of vehicles transporting civilians and journalists.

At least 60 civilians have now died in violence on the Syrian side of the border, with Turkish reports putting the number of civilians dead from Kurdish shelling inside Turkey at 18.

The Observatory monitoring group said pro-Ankara fighters “executed” at least nine civilians on Saturday near the Syrian town of Tal Abyad.

The Kurds said a female Kurdish party official and her driver were among those killed.

Aid groups have warned of another humanitarian disaster in Syria’s eight-year-old war if the offensive is not halted.

The UN humanitarian agency OCHA said the exodus sparked by the fighting had grown to 130,000 people and it was preparing for that figure to more than triple.

“We have moved into a planning scenario where up to 400,000 people could be displaced within and across the affected areas,” spokesman Jens Laerke said.

Some 12,000 IS fighters — Syrians, Iraqis as well as foreigners from 54 countries —are detained in Kurdish prisons, according to official Kurdish statistics.

Displacement camps meanwhile host some 12,000 foreigners — 8,000 children and 4,000 women.

“The brutal military assault led by Turkey and its mercenaries is now taking place near a camp in Ain Issa, where there are thousands (of people) from families of IS,” a Kurdish administration statement said.

“Some were able to escape after bombardments that targeted” the camp. The Kurds also charged its guards had been attacked and the gates of the camp flung open.

It said the Ain Issa camp was “now without guards” and 785 relatives of IS jihadists had fled.

The SDF, a coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters, was the main partner on the ground in the US-led campaign against IS.

According to the Observatory, at least 104 of its fighters have been killed since the start of the Turkish offensive.

Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2019