Turkey steps up Attack on Syria Kurds defying sanctions threats
Ankara stepped up its assault on Kurdish-held border towns in northeastern Syria on Saturday, defying mounting threats of international sanctions, even from Washington.
Buoyed by a night of steady advances in the countryside, Turkish troops and their Syrian allies entered the battleground city of Ras al-Ain, sources on both sides said.
The Turkish defence ministry hailed its own forces’ catch of the first Kurdish-held city of the offensive so far.
But Ras al-Ain’s Kurdish defenders denied the town had dropped and an AFP correspondent close to the town said Turkish troops and their Syrian allies had entered but had yet to capture it.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, who were the most important ground spouse in the US-led campaign against the Islamic State group, have taken mounting losses against the vastly superior firepower of the Turkish army.
At least 20 SDF fighters were killed in clashes overnight, taking their losses because the Turkish offensive started on Wednesday to 74, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, stated.
Turkish air strikes on Kurdish-held towns and intense artillery exchanges caused mounting casualties on either side of the border, with 28 dead on the Syrian side, according to the Observatory, and 17 dead in Turkey, according to Turkish reports.
The Turkish military has lost four dead, according to the defence ministry and the state-run Anadolu news agency.
The town of Ras al-Ain and that of Tal-Abyad further west have been been primary goals of the Turkish offensive and have both come under heavy bombardment.
They lie at either end of a section fo the border that although Kurdish-controlled has an ethnic Arab majority.
Ankara says its forces’ mission is to establish a safe zone run by its mainly Arab Syrian allies in which some of the 3.6 mllion mainly Arab refugees in Syria can be rehoused.
But the Kurds say the Turkish invasion, which has led to an exodus of civilian residents, Arab as well as Kurdish, amounts to an attempt to redraw the cultural map fo the area at their expense.
The offensive has up to now displaced some 100,000 people, according to the United Nations.
Roads leading from the area have been dilled with fleeing civlians, some on foot, other in vehicles piled high with their possessions.
Few have any idea when if ever they will be able to return to their homes.
Aid group warnings
Aid groups have warned of yet another humanitarian disaster in Syria’s eight-year-old war when the offensive is not stopped.
“More people are leaving on a daily base and those numbers will go up,” the World Food Program said Saturday.
Most of those fleeing were going east towards the city of Hasakeh, which has not been targeted by Turkey.
“Turkey’s goal is to prevent further fleeing Syrian civilians from entering Turkey rather than genuinely providing protection,” Human Rights Watch said Friday.
The SDF lost 11,000 fighters in the protracted US-led campaign against the Islamic State team before eventually overrunning its self-proclaimed”caliphate” in March.
Trump warnings unheeded
President Donald Trump has faced a firestorm of criticism from his own domestic fans, for abandoning a loyal ally.
The Turkish offensive began after Trump ordered US troops to pull back from the border and he stands accused of giving it a green light.
He has since toughened his policy towards Ankara and on Friday threatened crippling sanctions if the operation goes too far.
But Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan has voiced defiance and the Pentagon has reported no progress in its belated attempts to persuade Ankara to stop the offensive.
France, a key partner in the US-led anti-IS coalition, has threatened sanctions against NATO member Turkey.
French leader Emmanuel Macron said the Turkish offensive must stop”as soon as possible” in a telephone conversation with Trump on Friday, the presidency said.
Turkey is still far from having attained the goals of its military invasion but the risk appears to be growing that arrested IS fighters could break free.
Kurdish officials said five IS inmates managed to escape from a facility in the border town of Qamishli housing mostly foreign jihadists after shelling struck nearby.
A car bomb maintained by IS also went off Friday in Qamishli, one of the key cities in the Kurdish region, killing at least six people, officials and the Observatory said.
The Kurdish administration says some 12,000 men are held in seven detention centers across Kurdish-controlled areas.
The US says it has already plucked two of the most high-profile IS jihadists to have been captured and spirited them out of Syria.