Reports of breakout from facility in Ain Issa amid ongoing Turkish offensive and US announcement of troop pull-out.
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” to which millions of Syrian refugees can be returned.
The move came after the United States announced it was withdrawing its troops from the area, 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 Syrian border towns.
Here are the latest updates:
France said on Monday it was taking measures to ensure the safety of its military and civilians in northeastern Syria as the United States begins to withdraw forces from the area.
France has been one of the main allies in the US-led coalition fighting ISIL.
“Measures will be taken in the coming hours to ensure the safety of French military and civilian personnel present in the zone as part of the international coalition fighting Islamic State and humanitarian action,” the French presidency said in a statement after an emergency defence cabinet meeting. It did not provide further details.
A regional diplomatic source told Reuters on Thursday that Paris was preparing to pull out its several hundred special forces. They are operating closely with Kurdish-led forces, who are now the target of Turkey’s offensive in northern Syria. French aid workers are also in the zone.
The Kurdish administration in northern Syria announced a deal with the Damascus government on a Syrian troop deployment near the border with Turkey to confront Ankara’s offensive.
“In order to prevent and confront this aggression, an agreement has been reached with the Syrian government… so that the Syrian army can deploy along the Syrian-Turkish border to assist the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF),” the Kurdish administration said in a statement on its Facebook page.
In their statement the Kurds said that the agreement struck with the Damascus government “paves the way to liberate the rest of the Syrian cities occupied by the Turkish army such as Afrin”, a majority Kurdish enclave in the northwest.
General Ismet Sheikh Hasan, an official in Kurdish-controlled Kobane, told the Russian news agency RT that Syrian Kurds have reached an agreement with Russia to allow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s troops into Kobane.
Hassan, the minister of defense of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, also known as Rojava, said Russian and Syrian government troops could enter Kobane and Manbij by Sunday night to help secure the cities from a Turkish-led offensive in northern Syria.
“We agreed with the Russians and the [Assad] regime to enter Kobane tonight,” Hassan told RT.
“We did everything we could,” he said. “We have called upon the West [and] the Arab League but no one is coming to help, so we have no one other than ourselves to defend [Kobane].
“We agreed with the regime and the Russians to come to Kobane,” he added.
Neither the SDF nor Russia have confirmed such an agreement exists.
Turkey’s president dismissed reports that ISIL prisoners in northeastern Syria had escaped as a result of Turkey’s offensive in the region, saying the reports were “disinformation” aimed at provoking the West.
A Syrian Kurdish politician told Reuters news agency that the SDF has been holding negotiations with the Syrian government at a Russian airbase in Syria.
Ahmed Suleiman, a senior member of the Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party in Syria, said the talks were being held at Russia’s Hmeimim airbase in Latakia. He did not say if he or his party – which is independent from the SDF – had a role in the negotiations.
Suleiman said he hoped for an agreement between the sides that would “halt the ongoing war and especially its catastrophic and dangerous consequences”.
The head of the SDF media office Mustafa Bali said “no comment” about the report.
“We have confirmed from the start of the (Turkish) invasion that we will study all options that could spare our people ethnic cleansing,” he told Reuters.
Syrian state television said government troops are moving to the north to confront the ongoing Turkish offensive in northern Syria. The report gave no further details about the operation.
France’s President Emmanuel Macron, at a joint news conference with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, said the Turkish offensive – over which both countries have decided to suspend arms exports to Ankara – risked creating an “unbearable humanitarian situation”.
Macron told reporters that he and Merkel had spoken separately with Trump and Erdogan to deliver a single, clear message: “Our common wish is that the offensive must cease”.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Italy, one of Ankara’s main arms suppliers, said he would press for an EU ban on arms sales to Turkey.
Anadolu news agency said Turkey-backed Syrian opposition forces have taken control of Tel Abyad’s city center and cleared it of Kurdish fighters.
Tel Abyad is one of the two key border towns at the focus of the ongoing Turkish offensive.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said that the Turkey-backed forces had “near full control” of the town.
Kurdish news agency Hawar said that one of its reporters, Saad Ahmed, was killed in an attack by Turkish airstrikes on a convoy in northern Syria. Another reporter, Mohammad Akanji, was wounded in the attack.
A war monitor and SDF officials said several civilians were killed after Turkish airstrikes targeted a convoy in northern Syria.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which put the civilian death toll at nine, said the convoy was hit when it arrived in Ras al-Ain, a border town that advancing Turkish-allied forces have seized.
The British-based war monitor said the convoy, which included protesters against the Turkey-led offensive, was guarded by armed men, and accompanied by journalists.
A spokesman for the Kurdish forces told Associated Press that at least 11 people were killed and 74 were wounded, but it was not clear how many were civilians. The SDF said in a statement that tens of civilians were killed and wounded without specifying their numbers.
Images of the attack shared by Kurdish media showed the airstrike shatter an otherwise quiet street.
Bodies and severed limbs were strewn in the street. Some of those killed appeared to be carrying guns. Activists said the gunmen were guarding the convoy.
— Rudaw عربية (@rudaw_arabic) October 13, 2019
Turkey’s Defence Ministry said its troops seized control of Syria’s M4 highway, which lies 30 to 35 km deep in Syrian territory. The road, which runs east and west through northern Syria, is seen as a vital transport link for SDF.
As a result of the successful conduct of Operation Peace Spring, a depth of 30-35 km has been reached and M-4 highway has been taken under control.🇹🇷
— T.C. Millî Savunma Bakanlığı (@tcsavunma) October 13, 2019
Meanwhile, an anonymous SDF official told Reuters news agency the Kurdish-led forces were clashing with Turkish soldiers and their Syrian allies on the highway.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Erdogan in a phone call to bring to an immediate halt Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria, according to a spokeswoman for the German government.
“The Chancellor advocated an immediate end to the military operation,” the spokeswoman said in a statement.
The Kurdish-led administration in northern Syria issued a statement saying 950 ISIL supporters escaped from a camp in Ain Issa after attacking guards and storming the gates, according to The Associated Press news agency.
Jelal Ayaf, a senior official at the camp, told local media that 859 people successfully escaped from the section housing foreigners. He said a few were recaptured but that supporters inside the other section of the camp also escaped and were carrying out attacks.
He described the situation as “very volatile”.
The numbers could not be verified immediately.
The camp, located some 35km south of the Turkey-Syria border, is home to some 12,000 people, including 1,000 wives and children of suspected ISIL fighters.
Ain Isa camp. Almost all suspected ISIS militants fled the camp. pic.twitter.com/sT2Cf4PWtI
— Mustafa Bali (@mustefabali) October 13, 2019
Two US defence officials told Reuters a small number of US troops left an outpost in Ain Issa because of concerns they could be caught in the middle of the Turkish offensive.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said President Donald Trump had ordered the withdrawal of up to 1,000 troops from northern Syria.
“I spoke with the president last night after discussions with the rest of the national security team and he directed that we begin a deliberate withdrawal of forces from northern Syria,” Esper told CBS’s Face the Nation.
“We find ourselves as we have American forces likely caught between two opposing advancing armies and it’s a very untenable situation,” he added.
Esper told Fox News that the number of troops being pulled back totaled “less than a thousand”.
“I can’t give a timeline because it changes hourly. We want to make sure that we do so in a very safe, deliberate manner, that we deconflict things as we go with those folks on the ground and immediate area.”
The US has seen reports of the killing of a Kurdish politician and captured Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria and finds these reports “extremely troubling,” a spokesman for the State Department told Reuters news agency.
“We find these reports to be extremely troubling, reflecting the overall destabilisation of northeast Syria since the commencement of hostilities on Tuesday,” the spokesman said in emailed comments, adding that Washington condemned any mistreatment and extrajudicial execution of civilians or prisoners, and was looking further into these circumstances.
Turkey’s president said threats of sanctions and arms embargoes by Western powers would not stop Turkey’s military offensive against Kurdish forces in Syria.
“After we launched our operation, we have faced threats like economic sanctions and embargoes on weapons sales. Those who think they can make Turkey turn back with these threats are gravely mistaken,” Erdogan said in a televised speech.
France and Germany said on Saturday that they were suspending arms exports to Turkey over its offensive in Syria against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Erdogan told a news conference that Turkey’s military operation will extend 30 to 35km into Syrian territory.
Erdogan said the Turkish-led forces had also besieged the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad, adding that two Turkish soldiers and 16 Turkey-backed Syrian rebels had been killed in the operation.
Turkey’s assault has forced 130,000 people to flee their homes, the UN said, adding it was preparing for that figure to more than triple.
“We have moved into a planning scenario where up to 400,000 people could be displaced within and across the affected areas,” Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the UN humanitarian agency OCHA told AFP news agency, adding that these people would be “in need of assistance and protection”.
The UN had on Friday estimated that 100,000 people had fled their homes since the beginning of Turkey’s operation but by Sunday, it warned of displacements from rural areas around Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain and updated its estimates to figures “surpassing 130,000 people”, although an exact figure was hard to determine.
Most of the displaced had reached relatives or host communities, but growing numbers were arriving at collective shelters.
Turkish forces and their Syrian allies 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.
Suluk is located approximately 10km (six miles) from the Syrian-Turkish border, to the southeast of Tal Abyad.
Turkish forces targeted areas around two Syrian border towns with fresh shelling, pressing on with their offensive against Kurdish forces for a fifth day.
Gunfire resounded early on Sunday around Ras al-Ain, one of two Syrian towns that are the focus of the attack, while Turkish artillery continued to target the area.
Smoke was seen rising from Ras al-Ain in northeastern Syria after Turkey’s military said it had taken the key border town; Turkey’s most significant gain since its cross-border operation began.
The Turkish Defence Ministry tweeted on Friday: “Ras al-Ain’s residential centre has been taken under control through the successful operations in the east of the Euphrates (River).”
The Syrian Observatory confirmed that Turkish troops have entered the town, adding that fighting is still ongoing.
President Donald Trump has said he is an “island of one” for removing US forces from northeastern Syria.
Trump said the US cannot fight “endless wars.”
“We have to bring our great heroes, our great soldiers, we have to bring them home. It’s time. It’s time,” Trump said in a lengthy and wide-ranging address to the Values Voter Summit, an annual gathering of social conservative activists.
He portrayed the Middle East as a hopeless cause, despite years of American military involvement and financial investment.
“It’s less safe now. It’s less secure, less stable and they fight,” he said. “That’s what they do. They fight.”
Trump announced that he had directed $50 million in emergency aid for Syria to support Christians and other religious minorities there.
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 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 warplanes.
“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 no 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 SOHR said.
In response to Turkey’s operation in Syria, Germany has banned some arms exports to Turkey, according to the German weekly Bild Am Sonntag.
“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”.
Aboul 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 a neighbourhood in Ras al-Ain‘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.
Read more updates here.