Published: Fri, October 11, 2019

Turkey launches military offensive against Kurdish groups and Islamic State in Syria

Turkey launches military offensive against Kurdish groups and Islamic State in Syria

Turkey wants to create what it calls a "safe zone" in a stretch of territory along its southern border with Syria that is now controlled by Syrian Kurdish fighters, known as the People's Protection Units, or YPG.

Turkey is preparing to launch a military operation against the Kurdish militants in northern Syria following the decision by U.S. President Donald Trump's administration to leave the Arab state. He labelled the assault "Operation Peace Spring".

In its call for a general mobilization, the local civilian Kurdish authority known as the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria asked the global community to fulfil its responsibilities and for the US -led coalition to set up a no-fly zone in northeastern Syria to protect the civilian population from Turkish airstrikes. The withdrawal was widely criticised in Washington as a betrayal of America's Kurdish allies.

Turkish howitzers also started hitting bases and ammunition depots of the Kurdish YPG militia. Artillery was also stationed in the area, and soldiers wandered around a nearby military camp.

Plumes of smoke could be seen rising near the town of Qamishli and clashes continued late Wednesday amid intense shelling as Turkey struck at least six different border towns along a 290-mile (300-kilometre) stretch.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 15 people, including eight civilians, had been killed in the airstrikes.

World powers fear the Turkish action could open a new chapter in Syria's war and worsen regional turmoil. He said the Turkish offensive will establish a safe zone, which will allow the return of Syrian refugees to their homes.

The EU is paying Turkey 6 billion euros ($6.6 billion) to help the country cope with nearly 4 million Syrian refugees on its territory in exchange for stopping migrants leaving for Europe.

Erdogan discussed plans for the incursion by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the build-up to the offensive, Syria had said it was determined to confront any Turkish aggression.

Turkey considers the YPG as terrorists affiliated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which has waged a 35-year-long battle against the Turkish state.

Turkey has invaded north-eastern Syria, attacking largely-Kurdish fighters who were key in defeating Daesh (Isis/Isil).

Thousands of people fled Ras al Ain towards Hasaka province, held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

While the territory in question is already outside Syrian government control, a Turkish incursion could mean the area switching from a non-hostile force - the SDF - to Turkey and rebels that have sought to topple Assad.

The SDF, led by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), has denounced Washington's move as a "stab in the back".

The northeastern border region, now controlled by Kurdish-led forces, stretches 480 km (300 miles) from the Euphrates river in the west to the Iraq border to the east. Unwilling to let go of an area they wrested from the Islamic State group, the battle-hardened Kurdish fighters - trained and equipped by the USA - have vowed to fight the Turks until the end. Kurdish-led security forces set up checkpoints and stockpiled tyres to set alight to blur the vision of Turkish military pilots.

Kurdish forces have dug trenches and tunnels in both areas, covering streets with metal canopies to block the cameras of Turkish drones.

They said they would hold their erstwhile U.S. ally and the whole global community responsible for any "humanitarian catastrophe" that unfolds.

Turkish media said several mortar shells had landed on the Turkish side of the border but there were no casualties. Patrolling with Turkey and global forces to protect the Kurds and Turkey is the way to go.

"Turkey has no ambition in northeastern Syria except to neutralize a long-standing threat against Turkish citizens and to liberate the local population from the yoke of armed thugs", the column said.

Turkey's communications director, Fahrettin Altun, wrote in the Washington Post that Kurdish forces can either "defect" or Turkey will "have no choice but to stop them from disrupting our counter-Islamic State efforts".

Earlier on Wednesday, warning of a "humanitarian catastrophe", Rojavan forces issued a general mobilisation call ahead of Turkey's attack.

His remarks came as the five European members of the UN Security Council, France, Germany, Britain, Belgium and Poland, called on Ankara to halt its unilateral military operation against Syrian Kurdish forces.

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