Tens of thousands have fled border region as Turkey’s military pushes into Kurdish-held areas in northeastern Syria.
Heavy fighting continues as Turkey presses ahead with its military operation against Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria, now in its fifth day.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says the offensive aims to remove the Kurdish-led forces from the border area and create a “safe zone” so millions of Syrian refugees can be returned.
The move came after the United States announced it was withdrawing its troops from the region, leaving the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), its main ally in the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) armed group, without US military support.
Turkey’s defence ministry confirmed the first death among Turkey’s soldiers on Friday, while heavy clashes between Turkish forces and the SDF are under way in the Syrian border towns.
Here are the latest updates:
France said it suspended arms exports to Turkey amid the latter’s ongoing military push into northeastern Syria, which it said threatened European security.
“In expectation of the end of this offensive, France has decided to suspend all plans to export to Turkey weapons that could be used in this offensive. This decision is with immediate effect,” a joint statement from the foreign and defence ministries said.
The statement added that European Union foreign ministers would coordinate their position on Monday at a meeting in Luxembourg.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu dismissed an offer by US President Donald Trump to mediate between Ankara and Kurdish YPG forces to halt Turkey’s incursion in Syria, according to the transcript of an interview with German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
“We don’t mediate, negotiate with terrorists. The only thing to be done is for these terrorists to lay down arms,” Cavusoglu said. “We tried the political solution in Turkey in the past and we saw what happened.”
The Arab League called for the United Nations Security Council to take measures to force Turkey to halt its military offensive and “immediately” withdraw its forces from Syria.
A communique issued after Saturday’s meeting of Arab foreign ministers also urged the world body to suspend military and intelligence support that could help Turkey’s operation.
The communique said Arab countries reject Turkey’s attempts to impose “demographic changes” in Syria by a so-called “safe zone”. Arab countries should consider taking “diplomatic, economic, investment, cultural measures … to confront the Turkish aggression,” it added.
Two member countries, Qatar and Somalia, expressed reservations about the communique.
Thousands of people demonstrated in France, Germany, Greece and Cyprus denouncing the Turkish military operation in Syria.
In the French capital, Paris, some warned the offensive could allow ISIL’s resurgence while others criticised Erdogan as well as Trump for his decision to withdraw US forces from Syria.
The SDF warned Turkey’s offensive has revived ISIL and urged allied states that helped fight the armed group to close off airspace to Turkish war planes.
“The Turkish invasion is no longer threatening the revival of Daesh [ISIL], rather it has revived it and activated its cells in Qamishli and Hassakeh and all the other areas,” SDF official Redur Xelil said in a televised statement, noting car bomb attacks in each of the two cities.
“We are now fighting on two fronts: one front against the Turkish invasion and a front against Daesh,” he said, urging “allies” to carry out their “moral responsibilities” and impose a no-fly zone in northern Syria.
Thousands of people took to the streets in the city of Erbil in Iraq to protest against the Turkish offensive.
Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith, reporting from Erbil, said there was “little love lost” between the Kurds in the region and the Turkish authorities, adding there was also a “real feeling of betrayal by the Americans” among those demonstrating.
Speaking to Smith, one protester said: “It is a chance for Turkey to dominate us and kill the Kurdish people, the American government has always promised our protection, but now we see no protection.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin said foreign military forces “present illegally” inside Syrian territory should leave the country.
Speaking to Al Arabiya, Sky News Arabia and RT Arabic prior to his visit to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Putin said the Russian army would withdraw from Syria if its government decides so.
“If a future legitimate Syrian government says that they won’t need the presence of the Russian army anymore, it will apply for the Russian Federation as well,” he added.
Russia is one of two main military backers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, alongside Iran.
Asayish, the Kurdish police force in northern Syria, said a car bomb exploded outside a prison where suspected ISIL members were being held.
There was no word on casualties and one claimed responsibility for the incident in the northeastern city of Hassakeh.
Kurdish fighters brought reinforcements to prevent prisoners from escaping following the blast, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
In response to Turkey’s assault in northeastern Syria, Germany banned some arms exports to Turkey, according to the German weekly Bild Am Sonntag (Bams).
“Against the backdrop of the Turkish military offensive in north-eastern Syria, the Federal Government will not issue any new permits for all military equipment that could be used by Turkey in Syria,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was quoted as saying.
Germany exported arms worth 243 million euros ($268m) to Turkey in 2018, accounting for almost one-third of all German weapons exports, according to the paper.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif offered Tehran’s help in engaging Syria’s government, Syrian Kurds and Turkey in talks to establish security along the Turkey-Syria border.
Zarif referred to a 21-year-old security accord that required Damascus to stop harbouring Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) rebels. The PKK has waged a decades-long armed campaign for autonomy in Turkey.
Turkey has said that the decades-old pact was never implemented.
“The Adana Agreement between Turkey and Syria – still valid – can be the better path to achieve security,” Zarif said in a post on Twitter. “Iran can help bring together the Syrian Kurds, the Syrian Govt and Turkey so that the Syrian Army together with Turkey can guard the border,” he added.
The Adana Agreement between Turkey and Syria—still valid—can be the better path to achieve security. #Iran can help bring together the Syrian Kurds, the Syrian Govt, and Turkey so that the Syrian Army together with Turkey can guard the border.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) October 12, 2019
Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary-general of the Arab league, called Turkey’s military operation an “invasion of an Arab state’s land and an aggression on its sovereignty”.
Gheit said the offensive had resulted in a new wave of displacement and jeopardises “achievements” made in fighting ISIL.
Syria’s membership in the 22-member body was suspended in 2011 after the Syrian government’s military crackdown on protesters calling for reforms.
The Turkish defence ministry said its forces seized control of Ras al-Ain, one of the two key border towns at the focus of Ankara’s military offensive in Syria.
“As part of the successful operations being conducted in the framework of Operation Peace Spring, the town of Rasulayn, located east of the Euphrates, has been brought under control,” the ministry said in a post on Twitter.
As part of the successful operations being conducted in the framework of Operation Peace Spring, the town of Rasulayn, located east of the Euphrates, has been brought under control.
— T.C. Millî Savunma Bakanlığı (@tcsavunma) October 12, 2019
However, the SDF denied the report.
Marvan Qamishlo, an SDF military media official, said Turkish-backed forces had entered one neighbourhood of Ras al-Ain in the town’s industrial district following hours of heavy Turkish shelling that had forced a “tactical retreat” from that area.
Turkey’s military said 14 Syrian villages were “liberated” from “terrorists” as part of its offensive against Kurdish fighters.
The military added that 73 fighters from the People’s Protection Group (YPG) had been “neutralised” in the last eight hours. Meanwhile, Turkey’s ministry of defence said 399 YPG fighters had been “neutralised” since the operation began on Wednesday.
Turkish authorities often use the word “neutralised” to imply that fighters either surrendered, or were killed or captured. The Kurds disputed the number, saying only 29 of their fighters were dead.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s ministry of defence also said three of its soldiers were killed, while three others were wounded.
France and the United States agreed to remain in close contact over Turkey’s escalating campaign, French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said, adding that he had stressed the need to try to end the offensive in a phone call with his US counterpart, Donald Trump, late on Friday.
“France and the United States, which share common concerns, will coordinate closely in the coming days,” the Elysee Palace said in a statement.
Turkey’s defence ministry said that it had taken all measures to ensure that no US base was damaged while it responded to harassing fire that originated near the US military post in Syria.
“There was no firing on the US observation post,” it said of retaliatory fire, which it said was in response to an attack on its military posts south of the town of Suruc, located across the border from the Syrian town of Kobane.
“The firing was ceased as a result of the issue being relayed to us by the US,” the defence ministry said in a statement.
A US official and a Syria war monitor said there had been an explosion near an outpost where US troops are located in northern Syria amid intense shelling.
The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the source of the explosion near the Kurdish-held town of Kobane, was unclear, adding that no US personnel were hurt.
Syrian Observatory Director Rami Abdurrahman said there was intense Turkish shelling of Kobane. He said projectiles landed near the coalition base on a hill at the edge of town.
The Kurdish news agency Hawar reported that it was an artillery shell. Both the Observatory and Hawar said US warplanes flew over the base immediately after the incident.
The number of fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) group neutralised since the start of the operation in northern Syria has risen to 399, Turkey’s defence ministry said.
Turkish forces hit back at “harrassing fire” by Kurdish fighters which targeted 25 border posts east of the Euphrates river, the ministry said on Twitter.
It shared a video showing the moment of impact on a truck presumably belonging to the YPG that it deems a “terrorist” organisation, followed by a large cloud of smoke.
Barış Pınarı Harekâtı’nda İHA’larımız tarafından tespit edilen PKK/PYD-YPG’li teröristlere ait Doçka uçaksavar monteli araç, Hava Kuvvetlerimiz tarafından tam isabetle vuruldu.#MSB #TSK #BarışPınarıHarekatı pic.twitter.com/LHlfa9nlGq
— T.C. Millî Savunma Bakanlığı (@tcsavunma) October 11, 2019
Turkey will not stop its operation against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, Erdogan said, dismissing what he called “threats” from other countries.
“Whatever some may say, we will not stop this step that we have taken,” he said in a speech in Istanbul. “Now there are threats coming from left and right, telling us to stop this,” Erdogan added.
“We will not step back… We will continue this fight until all the terrorists go south of the 32km- (20 mile-) limit from our border that Mr Trump himself mentioned.”
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that President Donald Trump had authorised US officials to draft “very significant new sanctions” to target Turkey after the launch of the offensive but added that they were not “activating” the measures at this time.
“These are very powerful sanctions. We hope we don’t have to use them, but we can shut down the Turkish economy if we need to,” Mnuchin told reporters at the White House.
ISIL issued a statement on its Amaq agency, claiming responsibility for a car bomb explosion that killed at least three people in Qamishli, one of the main Kurdish towns in northeast Syria.
Five ISIL fighters broke out of a prison in Qamishli after Turkish shelling nearby, according to a media official with the SDF.
The escape came hours after women at the al-Hawl camp, which houses relatives of ISIL fighters, attacked security officers there.
— Coordination & Military Ops Center – SDF (@cmoc_sdf) October 11, 2019
“The Daesh women rose against the internal security forces at al-Hawl, they set ablaze tents and attacked the administrative and security offices there with stones and sticks,” Marvan Qamishlo told Reuters.
He did not know exactly how many people were involved but said it was at least in the hundreds.
The situation was under control but tense, he added.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, in a telephone call with his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar, called on Ankara to halt its military operation in Syria, saying the offensive threatens progress in combating ISIL and risks harm to US troops.
A Pentagon statement said that while Esper “reaffirmed we value our strategic bilateral relationship, this incursion risks serious consequences for Turkey”.
It added: “As part of the call, Secretary Esper strongly encouraged Turkey to discontinue actions in northeastern Syria in order to increase the possibility that the United States, Turkey and our partners could find a common way to de-escalate the situation before it becomes irreparable.”
Esper made clear that Turkey’s “uncoordinated actions” risked the progress made in the fight against ISIL.
The call took place on Thursday, the Pentagon said.
The Netherlands has “decided to withhold all licence applications for the export of military goods to Turkey pending the course of the situation” in northern Syria, according to the Dutch foreign ministry.
In a statement to the AFP news agency, the Netherlands also called on European Union member states to “exercise restraint and closely follow the criteria for arms exports” to Turkey.
The Netherlands is responsible for about eight percent of Europe’s total arms exports to Turkey, according to figures by the Amsterdam-based research and campaign organisation Stop Wapenhandel.
An estimated 100,000 people left their homes in northeast Syria with a growing number seeking refuge in shelters and schools following the Turkish military operation in the region, the UN said in a statement.
“The humanitarian impact is already being felt. An estimated 100,000 people have already left their homes. Most are being sheltered in host communities but an increasing number of them are arriving at collective shelters in Al Hassakah City and Tal Tamer. Many are seeking refuge in schools.”
The number of those affected may rise very quickly in the coming days should military action continue, the UN warned.
The fighting has already had an impact on basic services, the statement said, noting technicians have not been able to repair a damaged water station serving 400,000 people in the city of Hassakah and surrounding areas because of ongoing clashes.
Suleyman Soylu, Turkey’s interior minister, said 121 people were detained for social media posts critical of the military operation in northern Syria.
Nearly 500 people were investigated for characterising Turkey as an “invading” force and “insulting” the offensive, he added.
Three civilians were killed and nine others wounded when an explosives-laden vehicle detonated in a busy neighbourhood of Qamishli, officials said.
“A car bomb targeted a restaurant at a time when civilians, including journalists who came to cover the offensive, were inside,” the Kurdish internal security services known as Asayish said in a statement.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
The Asayish statement said ISIL fighters had increased their activity since the beginning of the Turkish offensive but did not blame the group for the car bomb.
Mark Lowcock, UN under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, called for de-escalation on the Turkey-Syria border, saying his agency was focusing on minimising the “impact on innocent civilians” from the ongoing Turkish operation.
“We are very concerned about what we are seeing along the northwestern border,” he told Al Jazeera from the Turkish city of Gaziantep. “We want restraint, we want de-escalation, we want special care paid to avoid any more loss of life or infliction of misery on civilians,” he said.
“There are, in our estimation, about 70,000 people who have left mostly urban centres heading south to avoid the fighting, and those people will be very vulnerable, they are the focus of our attention … there is clearly at the moment a lot of pain and suffering being caused for civilians and we want that to stop.”
Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from the Turkish border town of Akcakale, said the Turkish military was engaged in a fierce fight with the SDF for the control Tal Abyad.
“The Turkish military is using heavy fire power – air strikes, artillery shelling, as well as rocket fire. The town of Tal Abyad is empty [of civilians],” Khodr said. “The SDF has been firing rockets into Turkish border towns, including Akcakale. A short while ago, two Turkish nationals were killed in the nearby town of Suruc, bringing the total of Turkish nationals killed in rocket fire emanating from Syria to eight.”
Khodr said the Turkish military seemed to be concentrating their offensive in a strip of territory: 120km (75 miles) along the border, 30km (19 miles) deep.
“They say this is the initial phase of their operation – at the moment, it’s hard to say whether or not the scope of operations will widen.”
The autonomous Kurdish administration in northeast Syria it started evacuating a camp housing 7,000 displaced people to protect them from Turkish shelling.
The Mabroka camp, which lies 12km (seven miles) south of the border, was hit by shelling “which posed a direct threat to the lives of more than 7,000 displaced people,” a statement said.
The civilians are due to be transferred to a camp known as Arisha, which is located further south in a region that has not been targeted by Turkey.
Imran Khan, Pakistan’s prime minister, has offered rare backing for Turkey’s offensive in Syria.
A Pakistani government statement said Khan called Erdogan to express “support and solidarity”. He told the Turkish president that “Pakistan fully understands Turkey’s concerns relating to terrorism” as it has lost 40,000 people in acts of terrorism in recent years.
Khan said he was praying that “Turkey’s efforts for enhanced security, regional stability and peaceful resolution of the Syrian situation are fully successful”.
Erdogan is due to visit Pakistan later this month.
The World Food Programme (WFP) said that more than 70,000 people have already fled the escalating violence since Turkey launched its military operation into northern Syria on Wednesday.
The mass displacement occurred in the Al-Hasakah and Al-Raqqa provinces, a spokesman for the United Nations‘ agency said in Geneva.
He reminded the warring parties that the UN requires access to 650,000 people in northeast Syria who rely on food aid.
At least four Syrian rebel allies of the Turkish army have been killed in an ambush by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern Syria, Anadolu Agency reported.
The agency said the ambush took place in the Dadat village in the district of Tal Abyad, one of the Syrian border towns.
A total of 342 fighters from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been “neutralised” since the start of Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria, Turkey’s defence minister said.
Hulusi Akar’s comments came after his meeting with top military officials in Turkey’s capital Ankara, where he said “every kind of measures have been taken” in operation areas.
Akar said the military operation continues “successfully as planned”.
“We give the utmost importance to not only the security of our country and people, but also to the ethnic groups – Kurdish, Arabic, Assyrian, Christian, Ezidis and Keldani people – as well,” he said.
Meanwhile, the SDF said 22 of its fighters were killed on Wednesday and Thursday by Turkey and Syrian rebel allies.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Turkey’s military operation in Syria could lead to the revival of the ISIL group in the region.
Putin said Kurds who were guarding thousands of imprisoned ISIL fighters are now fleeing.
“I’m not sure whether the Turkish army will be able to take this under control – and how soon,” Putin said in televised remarks on a visit to Turkmenistan. “This is a real threat to us.”
“How will they be moving and to where?” he asked of the ISIL fighters. “Through Turkish territory? Through other territories?”
“We should simply understand this, know and mobilise the resources of our security services to neutralise this emerging new threat,” he added, without giving more detail.
European Council President Donald Tusk has condemned as attempted “blackmail” on Friday a threat by the Turkish president to allow millions of refugees to head to Europe if the bloc criticises Ankara’s offensive in Syria.
“Turkey must understand that our main concern is that their actions may lead to another humanitarian catastrophe, which would be unacceptable,” Tusk said on a visit to EU member Cyprus.
“Nor will we ever accept that refugees are weaponised and used to blackmail us. That is why I consider yesterday’s threats made by President Erdogan totally out of place,” he added.
Under a 2016 agreement with the EU, Turkey agreed to prevent refugees from leaving towards Europe in exchange for six billion euros ($6.63bn) and visa-free travel for its citizens, but has frequently criticised the lack of assistance from Brussels.
The Turkish military campaign in northeast Syria has displaced civilians and led to the closure of some main hospitals there, the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) says.
“With healthcare services already struggling to meet the needs of the population, displacement and injuries caused by fighting are likely to put additional pressure on the existing limited resources in hospitals,” Robert Onus, the MSF emergency manager for Syria, said.
Shelling has forced a main MSF-supported hospital in the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad to close as most of the medical staff left the area with their families, the charity says in a statement.
“As the only public hospital in the area, Tal Abyad hospital was critical to meeting the health needs of the town and surrounding areas,” it adds.
أجبر القصف غالبية سكان بلدة تل أبيض في #الرقة على مغادرتها خوفاً على حياتهم، وتم إغلاق مستشفى تل أبيض الذي كانت تدعمه أطباء بلا حدود بسبب مغادرة معظم أفراد الطاقم الطبي مع عائلاتهم. انتقلت فرق أطباء بلا حدود لتلبية الاحتياجات في أجزاء أخرى من المنطقة #نبع_ِالسلام @msf_arabic pic.twitter.com/846gnQo4xR
— أطباء بلا حدود سوريا (@MSF_Syria) October 11, 2019
Translation: The shelling has forced the majority of the residents of Tal Abyad town to leave for fear of their lives. The Tal Abyad hospital, which was supported by MSF, was closed because most medical staff have left with their families. MSF teams have been transferred to meet humanitarian needs in other parts of the region.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg expressed “serious concerns” on Friday about Turkey’s ongoing operation against Kurdish forces in Syria and called for “restraint”.
“I shared … my serious concerns about this ongoing operation and the risk of further destabilisation of the region,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Istanbul, speaking alongside Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
“While Turkey has serious security concerns, we expect Turkey to act with restraint.”
Stoltenberg also said the offensive should not undermine gains against ISIL.
“These gains must not be jeopardised. An imminent concern is that captured Daesh prisoners must not be allowed to escape,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for the ISIL.
The International Rescue Committee aid organisation said 64,000 people have reportedly fled their homes in northeast Syria, along the border with Turkey, and warned that the number could increase drastically.
“If the offensive continues, it’s possible a total of 300,000 people could be displaced to already overstretched camps and towns still recovering from the fight against IS [ISIL],” communications director for IRC Misty Buswell said.
Human Rights Watch agreed, saying that while the extent of the Turkish military operation is not yet known, any major offensive is likely to displace thousands of more people, straining a humanitarian response that is already at its limits.
According to the UN, at least 700,000 of the 1.7 million people in northeast Syria need humanitarian assistance.
Buswell said the IRC teams “remain on the ground” and are “committed to supporting those newly displaced alongside people in the region who were already reliant on humanitarian aid”.
The Turkish defence ministry said 49 more “terrorists” were “neutralised” in the military operation, in reference to Syrian Kurdish fighters, putting the total number of Kurdish fighters killed since the offensive began at 277.
According to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), at least 16 of its members – along with six additional fighters of unknown identity – were confirmed killed, and another 33 wounded.
Turkey has reported the first death of one of its soldiers in its operation in northern Syria, during clashes with a Kurdish militia following a day of heaving shelling on both sides.
Three more soldiers were injured in the “operation region”, the defence ministry said in a statement after the clashes on Thursday, without giving further detail.
Turkish soldier Ahmet Topçu lost his life during the Operation Peace Spring in Syria. pic.twitter.com/zrkOYyYLCZ
— dokuz8NEWS (@dokuz8news) October 11, 2019
US President Donald Trump said mediating a deal between Turkey and the Kurds is one of the three options available to the US after Turkey’s offensive in northeast Syria.
“We have one of three choices: Send in thousands of troops and win Militarily, hit Turkey very hard Financially and with Sanctions, or mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds!” Trump said in a Twitter post.
….We have one of three choices: Send in thousands of troops and win Militarily, hit Turkey very hard Financially and with Sanctions, or mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 10, 2019
The US will take action against Turkey if it engages in any “inhumane and disproportionate” moves against civilians during its incursion into northeast Syria, a senior State Department official said.
“That would include ethnic cleansing, it would include in particular indiscriminate artillery air and other fires directed at civilian population. That’s what we’re looking at right now. We haven’t seen significant examples of that so far,” the official said.
Read more updates here.