Turkey launches Syria offensive
Russia warns US policies in Syria could ‘ignite’ whole region
Damascus vows to respond to Turkish assault
EU urges Ankara to halt offensive, says won’t pay for ‘safe zone’
Defying world pressure, Turkey yesterday launched an assault on Kurdish forces in northern Syria with air strikes and artillery fire reported along the border.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the start of the attack on Twitter, labelling it “Operation Peace Spring,” just days after US troops pulled back from the area.
It triggered criticism from Western countries who have allied with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) against the Islamic State jihadist group (IS).
An AFP correspondent reported Turkish artillery fire in the Ras al-Ain border area and explosions as warplanes flew overhead. Kurdish forces said at least two civilians were killed. Ras al-Ain was one of the places from which US troops withdrew on Monday which prevented a long-planned Turkish offensive.
SDF fighter, who played a crucial role in defeating the so called Islamic state, armed with rocket launchers were seen deploying in the area, as Kurdish authorities called up civilians to defend against the assault.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said air strikes and artillery fire also hit the Tal Abyad border region further west.
The SDF called on the international community to impose a no-fly zone to protect against “an imminent humanitarian crisis”.
Erdogan said the operation would target both Kurdish militants and IS. Ankara says it is necessary to curb the power of the SDF due to its ties with Kurdish insurgents inside Turkey.
It also wants a “safe zone” on the Syrian side of the border where it could send back some of the 3.6 million refugees it hosts from the eight-year civil war.
President Donald Trump insisted the United States had not abandoned its Kurdish allies. Trump was widely seen as giving a green light at the weekend, ordering the pullback of US troops from the Turkey-Syrian border which had served as a buffer.
Russian President Vladimir Putin urged Erdogan to “think carefully” before the offensive, while the European Union demanded Turkey halt its military operation.
Kurdish authorities announced a general mobilisation, urging all civilians to “head to the border with Turkey... to resist during this delicate historical moment”.
Kurdish leaders said they would hold their erstwhile US ally and the whole international community responsible for any “humanitarian catastrophe”.
The Kurds, a traditional US ally, also called on Moscow yesterday to facilitate dialogue with Damascus. Damascus yesterday vowed to respond to a planned Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria, saying it condemned Ankara’s “hostile intentions.”