Turkish military shelling Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) position in border town of Ras al-Ain, ahead of long-threatened military operations, Kurdish-led force says.
Turkey has launched a long-threatened military operation in northeast Syria to remove Kurdish-led forces from the border area and create a “safe zone” to resettle millions of Syrian refugees.
The move came after the United States announced it was withdrawing its troops from the region, effectively abandoning the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), its main ally in the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) armed group.
The SDF, led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), has denounced Washington’s move as a “stab in the back”.
Turkey considers the YPG a “terrorist” group.
The United Nations, the European Union and other world powers have expressed alarm over the Turkish plan, warning that any military action could exacerbate the suffering of Syrians already beleaguered by eight years of conflict.
Here are all the latest updates:
Wednesday, October 9
Turkish warplanes carrying out ‘intensive’ bombing, SDF says
Turkish jets were bombing SDF military positions and villages in Tel Abyad, Ras al-Ain, Qamishli and Ain Issa, the Kurdish-spearheaded group said in a post on Twitter, adding there were initial reports of civilian casualties from the strikes.
“Intensive bombardment by Turkish jets on military positions and civilians villages in #Tal_Abyad , #Serê_Kanye, #Qamishlo and #Ain_Issa. According to initial reports there are casualties among civilian people,” the SDF said.
EU official calls on Turkey to halt offensive
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker urged Turkey to halt its military operation and warned the European Union would not help finance the creation of any “safe zone” in northeastern Syria.
“I call on Turkey as well as on the other actors to act with restraint and to stop operations already, as we are speaking, underway,” Juncker told EU legislators.
The EU is paying Turkey more than $6bn to help the country cope with millions of Syrian refugees hosted on its territory in exchange for stopping migrants leaving for Europe. However, Ankara is seeking more money amid concerns that thousands of Syrians could soon cross its border.
People flee border town: Report
A witness in the Syrian town of Tel Abyad told the Reuters news agency that sounds of explosions rang out and smoke was rising near the border with Turkey, as people fled the town en masse amid the beginning of the Turkish offensive.
SDF appeals for ‘no fly zone’
The SDF appealed to the US and its allies for a “no fly zone” to protect it from Turkish attacks.
“The SDF showed good faith to the security mechanism agreement between the US and Turkey. This left our people defenceless,” the group said.
Ankara summons US envoy over Syria operation
The US ambassador to Ankara was summoned to the Turkish foreign ministry to be briefed on the military offensive into northeastern Syria, broadcaster CNN Turk reported, minutes after Ankara launched its cross-border operation.
Erdogan announces military operation has begun
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country’s long-threatened military operation in northeastern Syria had started.
“The Turkish Armed Forces, together with the Syrian National Army, just launched #OperationPeaceSpring against PKK/YPG and Daesh terrorists in northern Syria,” Erdogan said in a post on Twitter, referencing the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA).
“Our mission is to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area,” he added.
SDF: Turkish airstrikes have started
SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said Turkish warplanes had started carrying out airstrikes on “civilian areas”.
“There is a huge panic among people of the region,” Bali said in a post on Twitter.
Tens of thousands of Syrian fighters mobilised by Turkey
Tens of thousands of Syrian proxy fighters have been mobilised to take part in the Turkish offensive, a spokesman said.
The Syrian fighters, most of them from northwestern areas controlled by Turkey since previous offensives in 2016 and 2018, were gathered in a former refugee camp in the Turkish border town of Akcakale.
They belong to factions of the FSA, a coalition of groups armed and financed by Ankara.
At least 18,000 fighters are due to participate in the first stage of the Turkish offensive, according to Abdelrahman Ghazi Dadeh, spokesman for Anwar al-Haq, a small faction within the FSA. Dadeh said 8,000 would target the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad and 10,000 the town of Ras al-Ain, Dadeh told journalists in Akcakale.
An undetermined number of additional fighters were also expected to be mobilised for an assault on Kobane. All three towns in northeastern Syria are controlled by the YPG.
France’s Macron ‘very worried’ over Turkey operation in Syria
French President Emmanuel Macron is very worried at the prospect of a Turkish army operation into areas controlled by Kurdish forces in northern Syria, his office said.
Macron met senior Syrian Kurdish official Ilham Ahmed at the Elysee Palace on Monday “to show that France stands alongside the SDF as they are partners in the fight against ISIL and that we are very worried by the possibility of a Turkish operation in Syria,” a presidential aide told AFP.
The aide added that Paris would “pass on these messages” to the Turkish authorities.
Macron has on occasion irritated Turkey by hosting in Paris members of the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Council.
Ankara insists such groups are merely fronts for the YPG, an arm of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has waged a three-and-a-half decade armed campaign against Turkey.
Turkey says it will inform all actors about Syria offensive
Turkey will inform all relevant countries, including the Syrian government, about its planned offensive, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.
Speaking at a news conference in Algeria, Cavusoglu said the operation will be carried out in line with international law and that the only target of the offensive is armed fighters in the region.
He said Erdogan had told US President Donald Trump at the weekend that Ankara would launch the offensive after Washington stalled efforts to form a “safe zone” in the region.
Meanwhile, a vehicle believed to be carrying Turkish intelligence agents has arrived at a border point in Akcakale, Turkey near the Syrian town of Tal Abyad.
The white car was seen, which according to police was carrying Turkish intelligence officials, followed by another vehicle, believed to be carrying FSA rebels.
According to local police, the intelligence agents had arrived to carry out inspections.
Arab League chief criticises Turkey’s Syria push
The head of the Arab League said he was alarmed at Turkey’s planned military offensive into northeastern Syria.
In a statement on Wednesday, Ahmed Aboul Gheit said that such an invasion would be a “blatant violation of Syria’s sovereignty and threatens Syria’s integrity”.
He added that Turkey’s planned incursion also threatens to inflame further conflicts in eastern and northern Syria, and “could allow for the revival” of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) armed group.
Iran calls on Turkey to show restraint
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani called on Turkey to show restraint and avoid military action in northern Syria, and said US forces should leave the region.
“Turkey is rightfully worried about its southern borders. We believe that a correct path should be adopted to remove those concerns,” state news agency IRNA quoted Rouhani as saying.
“American troops must leave the region,” he added. “Kurds in Syria… should support the Syrian army.”
Iran holds unannounced military drill near Turkey border
Iran’s army began an unannounced military drill in the northwest of the country bordering Turkey, Iranian Students News Agency ISNA reported, as Turkish troops prepare to enter the territory of Iran’s ally Syria.
ISNA said the drill included rapid reaction units, mobile and offense brigades, and helicopters from the Army Ground Force’s Air Unit.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said his country’s preparations and deployments for its planned military offensive are continuing.
It was not clear where Akar was speaking from.
Syria’s territorial integrity must be preserved, says Russia’s Lavrov
Syria’s territorial integrity must be preserved, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said as Turkish forces prepared to enter the country.
US actions in the region are contradictory and Russia is urging dialogue between Damascus and Syria’s Kurds, he told reporters during a visit to Kazakhstan following a surprise withdrawal by US troops.
“Americans have violated their promises many times,” Lavrov said, adding that the US are playing “a very dangerous game”.
The foreign minister also discussed the issue with Kurdish leaders in Iraq.
“They are extremely alarmed that such a lightweight treatment of this extremely delicate subject could ignite the entire region,” he said.
Syrian Kurds call up civilians
The Kurdish administration in northeastern Syria called up civilians to defend the region against a feared Turkish assault, believed to be imminent.
“We announce three days of general mobilisation in northern and eastern Syria,” it said in a statement, urging all civilians to “head to the border with Turkey to fulfil their duty.”
ISIL fighters hit US-backed Kurdish fighters
A US-backed force and two Syrian activist groups say ISIL fighters carried out an attack in the city of Raqqa in northern Syria.
The attack targeted an SDF-held post in Raqqa, which was once ISIL’s de facto capital.
The attack came as Turkey was expected to launch an offensive against the Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria.
The Kurdish fighters said ISIL launched three suicide attacks against its positions in Raqqa. There was no word on casualties.
Erdogan aide says Turkey to start Syria offensive ‘shortly’
The Turkish military, together with the FSA, will cross the Syrian border “shortly”, Erdogan’s communications director said as Ankara prepared to start military action in the region.
In a tweet, Fahrettin Altun said that Kurdish fighters there could either defect or Ankara would have to “stop them from disrupting” Turkey’s struggle against ISIL.