Turkish-backed Syrian rebels have seized control of Ras al-Ayn’s town centre, Turkish officials say. (Reuters: Stoyan Nenov)
Turkey says its military offensive has taken central Ras al-Ayn, a key border town in north-eastern Syria, and its most significant gain since its cross-border operation against Syrian Kurdish fighters began.
- US warns of devastating sanctions against Turkey, “great harm” to ties
- Kurds say nearly 200,000 people have been displaced
- Iran offers to mediate between Kurds, Syrian regime and Turkey
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, confirmed that Turkish troops have entered the town, adding that fighting is still ongoing.
The Turkish military and allied Syrian opposition forces have been advancing in villages around Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn, under the cover of Turkish artillery and some airstrikes.
Turkish forces had stepped up their bombardment of Ras al-Ayn in their incursion, after US troops in the region came under artillery fire from Turkish positions.
Military action and violence in northern Syria has raised concerns about a possible resurgence of Islamic State activity. (AP: Lefteris Pitarakis)
Trump Administration warns of ‘great harm’ to relations
The United States has ramped up its efforts to persuade Ankara to halt the offensive against the US-backed Kurdish YPG forces, saying Ankara was causing “great harm” to ties and could face sanctions.
Turkey launched its incursion after US President Donald Trump withdrew US troops who had been fighting alongside Kurdish forces this week.
There has been fierce international criticism of the assault and concern about its humanitarian consequences. The Syrian Kurdish-led administration said nearly 200,000 people have been displaced as a result of the offensive.
France’s President Emmanuel Macron has discussed the Turkish offensive in Syria with Mr Trump, and warned about a possible resurgence of Islamic State activity as a result of the military action.
Mr Macron’s office said in a statement on Saturday that in the call, the French leader “reiterated the need to make the Turkish offensive stop immediately”.
But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dismissed mounting criticism of the operation and said on Friday evening that Turkey “will not stop it, no matter what anyone says”.
On Friday, the Pentagon said US troops came under artillery fire from Turkish emplacements near the Syrian border town of Kobani, 60 kilometres west of the main area of conflict, though none of its soldiers were wounded.
Turkey’s Defence Ministry said its forces did not open fire at the US base and took all precautions to prevent any harm to it while it was responding to fire from a nearby area by the Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara regards as a terrorist group.
Experts say Kurds could look to Assad regime
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Syria must be freed from foreign military presence.
“Everyone who is illegitimately on the territory of any state, in this case Syria, must leave this territory. This applies to all states,” Mr Putin told RT, Arabik Sky News and Al Arabiya in an interview.
Mr Putin also said Russian forces in Syria were also ready to leave the country as soon as the legitimate Syrian government tells Moscow it no longer needs its help.
With little leverage left in the game, Syria’s Kurds — viewed by Ankara as “terrorists” — may have to thaw ties with President Bashar al-Assad’s Russian-backed regime.
“The absence of US forces could cause them to turn to Damascus for assistance,” said Syria expert Samuel Ramani.
Marginalised for decades, Syria’s minority Kurds carved out a de facto autonomous region across some 30 per cent of the nation’s territory after the devastating war broke out in 2011.
After the Islamic State group swept across the region in 2014, the Kurd-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) mounted a fierce defence of their heartland and became the US-led coalition’s main partner on the ground.
Iran offers to mediate conflict
Iran offered on Saturday to engage Syrian Kurds, Syria’s government and Turkey in talks to establish security along the Turkish-Syrian border.
A journalist looks out of an hole of a house damaged by mortar fire in the Turkish town of Akcakale. (AP: Lefteris Pitarakis)
In making the mediation offer, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif referred to a 21-year-old security accord that required Syria to stop harbouring Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants waging an insurgency against the Turkish state.
Turkey has said that pact was never implemented.
“The Adana Agreement between Turkey and Syria — still valid — can be the better path to achieve security,” Mr Zarif said in a tweet which carried part of an interview he conducted with Turkish state broadcaster TRT.
“Iran can help bring together the Syrian Kurds, the Syrian Government and Turkey so that the Syrian Army together with Turkey can guard the border,” he said.
Iran’s call came on the fourth day of Turkey’s offensive against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Turkey’s Government believes has links to the PKK.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday the 1998 accord could only be implemented if there was a political settlement to Syria’s eight-year-old war.
He also said implementing the Adana pact would require the Syrian Government to be in control of north-eastern Syria, which it is not.
Iran, a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has regularly urged Turkey to respect Syria’s territorial integrity and avoid military action in north-eastern Syria.