Turkey seizes large parts of Syrian town in fresh advance

Above: Syrian rebel fighters backed by Ankara in the village of Yabisa, Syria, near the border with Turkey yesterday. Left: A group of ultra-nationalist demonstrators gathered in Akcakale, Turkey, yesterday in support of the Turkish operation against
Above: Syrian rebel fighters backed by Ankara in the village of Yabisa, Syria, near the border with Turkey yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS, EPA-EFE
Above: Syrian rebel fighters backed by Ankara in the village of Yabisa, Syria, near the border with Turkey yesterday. Left: A group of ultra-nationalist demonstrators gathered in Akcakale, Turkey, yesterday in support of the Turkish operation against
A group of ultra-nationalist demonstrators gathered in Akcakale, Turkey, yesterday in support of the Turkish operation against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.PHOTO: REUTERS, EPA-EFE

Assault on Kurdish militia in Syria enters fifth day as Britain expresses 'grave concern'

BEIRUT • Turkish forces and their Syrian allies have seized large parts of the northern Syrian town of Suluk in a new advance against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said yesterday.

Suluk is located around 10km from the Syrian-Turkish border, to the south-east of Tel Abyad.

Earlier, Turkish forces targeted areas around two Syrian border towns with fresh shelling, pressing on with their offensive against Kurdish militia for a fifth day in the face of fierce international opposition.

Turkey is facing threats of possible sanctions from the United States unless it calls off the incursion, while the Arab League has denounced the operation and Nato allies Germany and France said they were halting weapon exports to the country.

Ankara launched the cross-border assault against the YPG militia after US President Donald Trump withdrew some US troops from the border region. Turkey says the YPG is a terrorist group aligned with Kurdish militants in Turkey.

Gunfire resounded early yesterday around Ras al-Ain, one of two Syrian towns that are the focus of the attack, while Turkish artillery continued to target the area, said a Reuters reporter across the border in the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar.

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels advanced into Ras al-Ain last Saturday. Turkey said it took control of the town centre, while Kurdish-led forces denied that and said they were counter-attacking.

At Tel Abyad, the operation's other main target some 120km to the west, Turkish howitzers shelled outlying districts, said a witness in the neighbouring Turkish town of Akcakale.

The assault has raised international alarm over its mass displacement of civilians and the possibility of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants escaping from Kurdish prisons. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressed "grave concern" about the offensive to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, saying it may worsen the humanitarian situation and undermine progress against ISIS.

 
 
 
 

After a phone call between the two leaders last Saturday, a spokesman for Mr Johnson said the British leader urged Mr Erdogan to end the operation and enter into dialogue.

Turkey's Defence Ministry said yesterday that 480 YPG militants had been "neutralised" since the operation began, a term that commonly means "killed".

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based organisation that reports on the war, said 74 Kurdish-led fighters, 49 Turkey-backed Syrian rebels and 30 civilians have been killed in the fighting.

In Turkey, 18 civilians have been killed in cross-border bombardment, said the Turkish media and officials.

Mr Erdogan said yesterday that Turkey's incursion into Syria will stretch from Kobani in the west to Hasaka in the east, going some 30km into Syrian territory, and that the town of Ras al-Ain was already under Turkish control.

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2019, with the headline 'Turkey seizes large parts of Syrian town in fresh advance'. Print Edition | Subscribe