RAS AL-AIN, Syria: Ankara stepped up its assault on Kurdish-held border towns in northeastern Syria yesterday, 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 town of Ras al-Ain, sources on both sides said. The Turkish defense ministry hailed its forces’ capture of the first Kurdish-held town of the offensive so far.


But Ras al-Ain’s Kurdish defenders denied the town had fallen and an AFP correspondent near 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 main ground partner in the US-led campaign against the Islamic State group, called on the United States to assume its “moral obligations” and protect them.


US President Donald Trump has faced a firestorm of criticism, even from his own domestic supporters, for abandoning a loyal ally and stands accused of giving Turkey a green light to launch the offensive after ordering American troops to pull back from the border. The SDF have taken mounting losses against the vastly superior firepower of the Turkish army.


At least 23 SDF fighters have been killed, including in overnight clashes, bringing the over death toll since the Turkish offensive began on Wednesday to 81, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor. Turkish air strikes on Kurdish-held towns and intense artillery exchanges caused mounting casualties on both sides of the border. On the Syrian side at least 28 civilians have been killed, according to the Britain-based Observatory, and 17 are dead in Turkey, according to Turkish reports. Four Turkish soldiers have been killed, Turkey’s defense ministry and state-run Anadolu news agency said.


The towns of Ras al-Ain and Tal-Abyad further west have been primary goals of the Turkish offensive and have both come under heavy bombardment. They lie at either end of a section of the border which 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 million mostly Arab refugees from Syria can be rehoused.


But the Kurds say the Turkish invasion amounts to an attempt to redraw the ethnic map of the region at their expense. The operation has so far displaced some 100,000 people, according to the United Nations. Roads leading out of the area have been filled with fleeing civilians, some on foot, other in vehicles piled high with their belongings. “We always get displaced no matter where we go,” Yusra Al-Saleh, 38, who fled violence along Syria’s northern border, said. “We are destroyed.”


The Kurdish Red Crescent said it would no longer dispatch medical teams to Ras al-Ain because its ambulances are being hit by Turkish fire. It said one of its medical points south of Ras al-Ain was hit by Turkish fire yesterday, wounding an ambulance driver and damaging the vehicle. Aid groups have warned of yet another humanitarian disaster in Syria’s eight-year-old war if the offensive is not stopped. “More people are leaving on a daily base and those numbers will go up,” the World Food Program said.


Most of those fleeing were heading east towards the city of Hasakeh, which has not been targeted by Turkey. “Turkey’s aim is to prevent further fleeing Syrian civilians from entering Turkey rather than genuinely providing protection,” Human Rights Watch. The SDF lost 11,000 fighters in the protracted US-led campaign against IS before finally overrunning the jihadists’ self-proclaimed “caliphate” in March.


Yesterday, it decried being “abandoned” by Washington. “Our allies had guaranteed us protection … but suddenly and without warning they abandoned us in an unjust decisions to withdraw their troops from the Turkish border,” a statement said. “We call on our allies to fulfill their duties and assume their moral obligations,” to protect us by “closing the air space to Turkish warplanes”.


The offensive sparked international condemnation and even Trump toughened his policy towards Ankara, threatening on Friday crippling sanctions if the operation goes too far. Yesterday, Germany said it was halting sales of weapons to Turkey over the Syrian offensive, after France, a key partner in the US-led anti-IS coalition, threatened sanctions against Ankara. But Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan has voiced defiance and the Pentagon has reported no progress in its belated efforts to persuade Ankara to halt the assault.


Arab foreign ministers yesterday condemned Turkey’s “aggression” in Syria, calling for an immediate withdrawal of Ankara’s troops. The statement came after an emergency session of the Arab League in Cairo called for by Egypt to discuss Turkey’s assault on the Kurds.
Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit slammed the Turkish attack as an “invasion of an Arab land”. The ministers called for “ending the aggression and the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Turkey from all of Syria’s land”, the statement said. The group said Ankara’s offensive was a “direct threat to Arab national security”, adding they would consider “urgent measures to confront the Turkish aggression”.
The potential responses included diplomatic and economic actions, as well as “military cooperation to confront the Turkish aggression”, the statement said. The foreign ministers of Iraq and Lebanon also called for Syria’s Arab League membership to be unfrozen. Damascus has been suspended from the pan-Arab bloc since 2011 over its bloody crackdown on protestors.


Turkey dismissed the Arab League statement, saying it misrepresented its military operations. Fahrettin Altun, director of communications for the Turkish presidency, also said governments that disliked Turkey’s stance on Middle East issues including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and war in Yemen “do not speak for the Arab world”.

RAS AL-AIN, Syria: Turkish troops and Turkish-backed Syrian rebels gather outside this border town during their assault on Kurdish-held border towns in northeastern Syria. – AFP


The UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash also condemned the Turkish offensive. “We call for the exit of Turkey and its forces, as well as all foreign forces that have violated this Arab country – and to push for a successful political solution,” Gargash said.
Qatar, which is considered a Turkish ally, did not block the communique, but voiced reservations. “Qatar and Somalia have reservations about the Arab League’s decision today,” Arab League Assistant Secretary General Hossam Zaki told Reuters. “The Qatari reservation puts Qatar in one trench with the aggressor, and I have no further comment,” Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told Reuters TV. – Agencies

ainst the vastly superior firepower of the Turkish army.
At least 23 SDF fighters have been killed, including in overnight clashes, bringing the over death toll since the Turkish offensive began on Wednesday to 81, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor. Turkish air strikes on Kurdish-held towns and intense artillery exchanges caused mounting casualties on both sides of the border. On the Syrian side at least 28 civilians have been killed, according to the Britain-based Observatory, and 17 are dead in Turkey, according to Turkish reports. Four Turkish soldiers have been killed, Turkey’s defense ministry and state-run Anadolu news agency said.


The towns of Ras al-Ain and Tal-Abyad further west have been primary goals of the Turkish offensive and have both come under heavy bombardment. They lie at either end of a section of the border which 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 million mostly Arab refugees from Syria can be rehoused.


But the Kurds say the Turkish invasion amounts to an attempt to redraw the ethnic map of the region at their expense. The operation has so far displaced some 100,000 people, according to the United Nations. Roads leading out of the area have been filled with fleeing civilians, some on foot, other in vehicles piled high with their belongings. “We always get displaced no matter where we go,” Yusra Al-Saleh, 38, who fled violence along Syria’s northern border, said. “We are destroyed.”


The Kurdish Red Crescent said it would no longer dispatch medical teams to Ras al-Ain because its ambulances are being hit by Turkish fire. It said one of its medical points south of Ras al-Ain was hit by Turkish fire yesterday, wounding an ambulance driver and damaging the vehicle. Aid groups have warned of yet another humanitarian disaster in Syria’s eight-year-old war if the offensive is not stopped. “More people are leaving on a daily base and those numbers will go up,” the World Food Program said.


Most of those fleeing were heading east towards the city of Hasakeh, which has not been targeted by Turkey. “Turkey’s aim is to prevent further fleeing Syrian civilians from entering Turkey rather than genuinely providing protection,” Human Rights Watch. The SDF lost 11,000 fighters in the protracted US-led campaign against IS before finally overrunning the jihadists’ self-proclaimed “caliphate” in March.
Yesterday, it decried being “abandoned” by Washington. “Our allies had guaranteed us protection … but suddenly and without warning they abandoned us in an unjust decisions to withdraw their troops from the Turkish border,” a statement said. “We call on our allies to fulfill their duties and assume their moral obligations,” to protect us by “closing the air space to Turkish warplanes”.


The offensive sparked international condemnation and even Trump toughened his policy towards Ankara, threatening on Friday crippling sanctions if the operation goes too far. Yesterday, Germany said it was halting sales of weapons to Turkey over the Syrian offensive, after France, a key partner in the US-led anti-IS coalition, threatened sanctions against Ankara. But Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan has voiced defiance and the Pentagon has reported no progress in its belated efforts to persuade Ankara to halt the assault.


Arab foreign ministers yesterday condemned Turkey’s “aggression” in Syria, calling for an immediate withdrawal of Ankara’s troops. The statement came after an emergency session of the Arab League in Cairo called for by Egypt to discuss Turkey’s assault on the Kurds.
Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit slammed the Turkish attack as an “invasion of an Arab land”. The ministers called for “ending the aggression and the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Turkey from all of Syria’s land”, the statement said. The group said Ankara’s offensive was a “direct threat to Arab national security”, adding they would consider “urgent measures to confront the Turkish aggression”.
The potential responses included diplomatic and economic actions, as well as “military cooperation to confront the Turkish aggression”, the statement said. The foreign ministers of Iraq and Lebanon also called for Syria’s Arab League membership to be unfrozen. Damascus has been suspended from the pan-Arab bloc since 2011 over its bloody crackdown on protestors.


Turkey dismissed the Arab League statement, saying it misrepresented its military operations. Fahrettin Altun, director of communications for the Turkish presidency, also said governments that disliked Turkey’s stance on Middle East issues including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and war in Yemen “do not speak for the Arab world”.


The UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash also condemned the Turkish offensive. “We call for the exit of Turkey and its forces, as well as all foreign forces that have violated this Arab country – and to push for a successful political solution,” Gargash said.
Qatar, which is considered a Turkish ally, did not block the communique, but voiced reservations. “Qatar and Somalia have reservations about the Arab League’s decision today,” Arab League Assistant Secretary General Hossam Zaki told Reuters. “The Qatari reservation puts Qatar in one trench with the aggressor, and I have no further comment,” Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told Reuters TV. – Agencies