Turkey-backed Syrian rebel fighters walk together near the border town of Tel Abyad, Syria, on Saturday. Photo: REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
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Turkish-led forces advance into Syrian border town

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By Orhan Coskun and Tom Perry

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels advanced into Ras al Ain in northeast Syria on Saturday but it was unclear how far, with Turkey saying the town center had been taken and Kurdish-led forces denying this and saying they were counter-attacking.

The battle for Ras al Ain raged as Turkey pursued a four-day-old, cross-border offensive against a Syrian Kurdish militia despite an outcry from the United States and European Union and warnings of possible sanctions unless Ankara desisted.

U.S. President Donald Trump's administration said Turkey's incursion was causing "great harm" in relations with its NATO ally. Germany, also a NATO ally, said it was banning arms exports to Turkey and the head of the Arab League denounced the offensive.

Ankara began its onslaught against the YPG militia, which it says is a terrorist group backing Kurdish insurgents in Turkey, after Trump withdrew some U.S. troops who had been backing Kurdish forces in the fight against Islamic State.

The assault has raised international alarm over its mass displacement of civilians and the risk it could trigger a revival of an Islamic State insurgency in Syria, with a heightened possibility of IS militants escaping Kurdish prisons.

The Kurdish-led administration in Syria's northeast said nearly 200,000 people had been uprooted so far by the fighting, while the U.N. World Food Program put the figure at more than 100,000 in the towns of Tel Abyad and Ras al Ain.

Turkey's stated broader objective is to set up a "safe zone" inside Syria to resettle many of the 3.6 million Syrian war refugees it has been hosting. Erdogan has threatened to send them to Europe if the EU does not back his assault.

Turkish officials posted photos on Saturday showing deserted streets and Syrian rebels standing on Kurdish militia flags in Ras al Ain.

"The (Syrian rebel) National Army took control of (Ras al Ain) town centre this morning," a senior Turkish security official said, referring to the Syrian rebels Ankara backs."Inspections are being conducted in residential areas. Mine and booby trap searches are being carried out."

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in which the YPG comprises the main fighting element, denied losing the center of Ras al Ain. Marvan Qamishlo, an SDF spokesman, said they had only carried out a "tactical retreat" in response to hours of heavy Turkish bombardment.

"Now the SDF's attack has started and there are very fierce clashes," he told Reuters. "The clashes are continuing in the industrial district," he said, saying this was the part of Ras al Ain closest to the border.

Speaking as night fell Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office, said the SDF was still in control inside Ras al Ain, and fierce clashes were going on there.

The senior Turkish official said "nearly all" YPG forces had fled south from Ras al Ain. Turkish artillery continued to shell parts of the town, a Reuters reporter said.

The SDF holds most of the northern Syrian territory that once made up Islamic State's "caliphate" in the country, and has been keeping thousands of fighters from the jihadist group in jail and tens of thousands of their family members in camps.

In the latest international censure of Turkey's incursion, Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit called it an"invasion of an Arab state's land and an aggression on its sovereignty".

Iraq, the current president of the League, said the offensive "will exacerbate humanitarian crises, increase the suffering of the Syrian people and strengthen the ability of terrorists to reorganize their remnants."

Turkey dismissed the criticism, saying Syrian Arabs had been the biggest victims of the YPG, which it said had driven hundreds of thousands from their homes in areas it controls.

The foreign ministry said that by accusing Turkey, rather than a "terrorist organisation that threatens the territorial integrity of Syria", the League was betraying the Arab world.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also dismissed an offer by U.S. President Donald Trump to mediate between Ankara and Kurdish YPG forces. "We don't mediate, negotiate with terrorists," he told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. "The only thing to be done is for these terrorists to lay down arms."

Germany halted arms exports to Turkey. "Against the backdrop of the Turkish military offensive in northeastern Syria, the Federal Government will not issue any new permits for all military equipment that could be used by Turkey in Syria," Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told Bild Am Sonntag.

A senior French official said that next week's European Union summit would discuss possible sanctions against Turkey.

Erdogan has dismissed mounting international condemnation of the operation and said on Friday evening that Turkey "will not stop it, no matter what anyone says".

The Turkish-backed National Army said earlier they had cut a road linking Ras al Ain and Tel Abyad, the two main targets of Ankara's offensive, and had captured 18 villages since the operation began.

Seventy-four Kurdish-led fighters, 49 Turkey-backed Syrian rebels and 30 civilians have been killed in the fighting, according to Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor.

In Turkey, 18 civilians have been killed in cross-border bombardment, Turkish media and officials say, including eight people in a mortar and rocket attack on the border town of Nusaybin, the local governor's office said.

Turkey said 459 YPG militants had been "neutralised" since the operation began, a term that commonly means killed.

Overnight a car bomb exploded outside the wall of the prison in Hasaka in northeast Syria, causing serious damage but no casualties, a statement from security forces in the region said. It did not say if any Islamic State prisoners there had escaped.

The SDF's Qamishlo said the attack was carried out by IS sleeper cells and another senior SDF official said the Turkish assault had given new life to the jihadist group.

"The Turkish invasion is no longer threatening the revival of Daesh (Islamic State), rather it has revived it and activated its cells in Qamishli and Hasaka and all the other areas," SDF official Redur Xelil said, noting car bombs in each of the cities in the last day.

He said the SDF was now fighting on two fronts - continuing to cooperate with the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State while also confronting the Turkish armed forces.

In its first big attack since the assault began, IS claimed responsibility for a deadly car bomb in Qamishli, the largest city in the Kurdish-held area.

Five IS militants fled a jail there, and foreign women from the group being held in a camp torched tents and attacked guards with sticks and stones, the SDF said.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2019.

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

34 Comments
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The (Syrian rebel) National Army took control of (Ras al Ain) town centre this morning,

I thought the Western media told us the Syrian rebels were the good guys.

You should all be happy the rebels are regaining territory.

Now they're the bad guys?

What gives?

2 ( +10 / -8 )

Why? Why, Why? Do news agencies still quote from the Syrian Observatory on Human rights? The “Observatory” is actually one man, Rami Abdul Rahman an anti-Assad and Syrian regime exile living in a semi detached house in Coventry, England. The numbers and information it gives are all unverified, often exaggerated or simply fabricated.

The western press, also anti Assad, know its information is junk but still publish as it fits the narrative it wants to publish.

4 ( +9 / -5 )

Pay attention; three years ago Turkey imprisoned it's Military leadership and hundreds of thousands of turkish leaders just for trying to enforce Turkeys Constitution as their Constitution demanded they not peermit a religious leader to take over their secular government.

The hundreds of thousands of turkish political prisoners languish in jail and Islamist Ergoan is now trying to enlarge Turkey by occupying as much of Syria as he can get away with.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

The Kurds should have put in with ISIL. They seem to be surrounded by terrorists and should take some as allies before they get wiped out.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Liberals on Monday: "Trump is bad for not supporting the Syrian Rebels"

Liberals on Tuesday: "Trump is bad for not opposing the Syrian Rebels"

1 ( +8 / -7 )

And the Trump-Putin-Assad-Erdogan plan to make Syria, Turkey, and Russia Great Again continues....

"The Turkish invasion is no longer threatening the revival of Daesh (Islamic State), rather it has revived it and activated its cells in Qamishli and Hasaka and all the other areas," SDF official Redur Xelil said, noting car bombs in each of the cities in the last day.

And ISIS, which was being destroyed under President Obama, now grows and becomes a greater threat to the US and Europe under Donnie the Dimwit...

-1 ( +5 / -6 )

Trump threw the Kurds to the wolves without even attempting to negotiate. What a wuss!

Trump: Uuuuhhh! I give up! Putin, Erdogan and Assad . . . You guys can take over from here! I don't want to be involved with trying to help anybody. America first!

0 ( +3 / -3 )

The US has failed in Syria. Assad will stay. Russia, Iran and the people of Syria are the winners.

Turkey has no interest in gaining territory. It does however, have at its core, the desire to keep Turkey as it is. The US knows that Turkey will never permit a Kurdish state, regardless of any sanctions or even war.

The present situation is just Trump bending to reality.

Sad to say but Trump is right on this... (that hurts) The Syrian civil war was an Obama/ Clinton experiment so Trump can easily duck out.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

This is Genocide of the Kurds.  The same Kurds who fought along side the US forces.  Now abandoned.  It will take many years before people trust America again as an reliable partner.  Trump has treated the Kurdish troops and civilians in the same manner as he did Michael Cohen.  No longer of any use to him, he doesn't give a flying whatever about them.  And they are being decimated.  This is a war crime.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

@lincolnmaN

And ISIS, which was being destroyed under President Obama, now grows and becomes a greater threat to the US and Europe under Donnie the Dimwit...

Wrong!

Please read up on your modern day history...

1 ( +5 / -4 )

Please read up on your modern day history...

It's a little early in the day to be trying to revise reality, isn't it?

0 ( +3 / -3 )

@lincolnmaN

And ISIS, which was being destroyed under President Obama, now grows and becomes a greater threat to the US and Europe under Donnie the Dimwit...

Wrong!

Please read up on your modern day history...

Thank you for offering such a knowledgeable and fact-filled reply...

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Liberals on Monday: "Trump is bad for not supporting the Syrian Rebels"

Liberals on Tuesday: "Trump is bad for not opposing the Syrian Rebels"

No. You're intentionally misrepresenting what liberals say.

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

Trump decided to abandon our allies after a phone call to one of his major donors, the Turkish president. Amazing to think that if only the Kurds were in a position to offer the American president a huge bribe, they might have kept American support.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

I had no idea ethnic cleansing was a U.S policy. Nore did I know that working with the U.S actually gives the green light to ethnic cleansing. Who would have thought being stabbed in the back is an actual policy by a not a the supposed beak on of freedom.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Beacon of freedom

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Trump tweeted his plan with the American troops in Syria without even consulting with his team, his generals, the pentagon, the CIA, or even the Secretary of State. This guy is a wild card with a finger on the nuke button. He likes pushing buttons.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

zichi: When will the American people start PEACEFUL protests against Trump and US foreign policy? It seems many US citizens are not in agreement with the US withdrawal from Syria, so they should exert their democratic right and protest, right?

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

rlperez@hotmail.com.au

zichi: When will the American people start PEACEFUL protests against Trump and US foreign policy? It seems many US citizens are not in agreement with the US withdrawal from Syria, so they should exert their democratic right and protest, right?

Well I'm not an American. But there have been many protests against Trump and probably foreign policy. There have also been protests in other countries like when Trump visited London. There have been protests on the climate. Outside of the White House there's always someone protesting about something.

Not sure why you are asking the question?

You have too many hangups on America and really need to check yourself and stop repeating the same lines like what happened with the Kent University students or Ferguson. Your constant repeating actually water down any real value.

How are protests against the government in Australia going? Or your family country, what was that Norway or something?

I don't know even if the majority of Americans are against troops leaving Syria but there are many Kurds in USA and have a large group of supporters.

This will continue until the Kurd nation is made into a country.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

The problems for the Kurds and the Palestinians will continue until they each have their own country or state.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I'm having difficulty keeping up with the ever evolving Syria narrative here.

So the anti-Assad Syrian rebels who are attacking the Kurds and taking their territory, are they the good guys or bad guys?

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

I'm having difficulty keeping up with the ever evolving Syria narrative here.

Do some research instead of intentionally over-simplifying things in a disingenuous attempt to make liberals look back.

So the anti-Assad Syrian rebels who are attacking the Kurds and taking their territory, are they the good guys or bad guys?

Here, you are creating a false duality in another disingenuous attempt to disparage liberals.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

So the anti-Assad Syrian rebels who are attacking the Kurds and taking their territory, are they the good guys or bad guys?

Bad guys - Russians, Assad, ISIS. Good guys - everyone else.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

The U.S. has helped them for years. Tell the Chinese to take over. They won't because they're too smart to do that.

lincolnman: Don't remember any ISIS attacks in China 

Don't remember any ISIS attacks in the U.S. either. Al Qaida, yes, ISIS no. And yet the U.S. has helped the Kurds in Syria and Iraq for years.

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

This is an interesting interview - Trump talks about getting us out of the endless wars:

President Trump joins 'Justice with Judge Jeanine'

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kz1fSJ7ieUE

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

This is an interesting interview - Trump talks about getting us out of the endless wars:

As he orders more troops to Saudi Arabia. Trumpophiles don't seem to understand when they are being taken for a ride.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Here, you are creating a false duality in another disingenuous attempt to disparage liberals.

Did you read the article?

It clearly states that the Syrian Rebels are the ones attacking the Kurds.

Nothing "false" about it, it's stated right in the article.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

It clearly states that the Syrian Rebels are the ones attacking the Kurds.

Are you seriously claiming there is only one faction of Syrian rebels?

2 ( +3 / -1 )

lincolnman: Don't remember any ISIS attacks in China 

Don't remember any ISIS attacks in the U.S. either. Al Qaida, yes, ISIS no. And yet the U.S. has helped the Kurds in Syria and Iraq for years.

Please, do a little research before you post...

https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-army/2019/01/16/two-us-troops-two-american-civilians-killed-in-isis-attack-in-syria/

This is an interesting interview - Trump talks about getting us out of the endless wars:

President Trump joins 'Justice with Judge Jeanine'

Two crackpots if there ever were...Judge Jeanine is a joke...and Donnie's a Dimwit....put the show on the Comedy Channel where it belongs.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

@lincolnmaN

And ISIS, which was being destroyed under President Obama, now grows and becomes a greater threat to the US and Europe under Donnie the Dimwit...

Wrong!

Please read up on your modern day history...

Thank you for offering such a knowledgeable and fact-filled reply...

History tells us that ISIS didn’t exist until the Obama administration. They began and flourished under Obama’s reign. The ISIS caliphate was created under Obama. It was not rolled back until he left office and Trump unleashed a new policy and the military in Syria and Iraq. That is history - plain and clear.

Obama initiated American involvement in Syria and he invited Russia into the region when he bailed out on his failed Red Line policy.

I am enjoying the back and forth on Syria from both the Left and Right. The Left, who are supposedly anti-war and against the military industrial complex, are now arguing for more American military engagement in the Middle East and for placing American troops into an area of active conflict to act as a tripwire that could force America into a greater war against a fellow NATO ally. Huhh?

When the US Congress voted for war in Afghanistan and against ISIS the American Left turned against it as-soon-as they found a political advantage. The best thing America can do now is to disengage from the post WW2 world policeman role that there is no longer a domestic consensus for. I hate seeing American troops get handcuffed and cut off at the knees by a fickle American Left who have no qualms with turning its back on wars they voted to begin.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

Two crackpots if there ever were...

American presidents are often spending their time with crackpots. Al Sharpton was an Obama domestic advisor. Don’t forget his hobnobbing win virulent racist and anti-semite Farrakhan. Whataboutism or hypocrisy? Who cares. It is what it is and both the Left and the Right are knee deep in it.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

History tells us that ISIS didn’t exist until the Obama administration. 

Who's history? Putin's?

Most historians of the Islamic State agree that the group emerged out of al-Qaeda in Iraq as a response to the U.S. invasion in 2003. They also agree that it was shaped primarily by a Jordanian jihadist and the eventual head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The Jordanian had a dark vision: He wished to fuel a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites and establish a caliphate.

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/11/isis-origins-anbari-zarqawi/577030/

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Left, who are supposedly anti-war and against the military industrial complex, are now arguing for more American military engagement in the Middle East and for placing American troops into an area of active conflict to act as a tripwire that could force America into a greater war against a fellow NATO ally. Huhh?

Incorrext. We are arguing for a well thought out withdrawal, not a knee-jerk reactionary withdrawal that leaves our allies flapping on the wind like Donny implemented. Why is it so difficult for a Trumpophiles to understand nuance; the world is not black and white.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Seeing shades of grey and nuance, is something above the intellectual capacity of most of our members of the right.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

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