Damascus has much to gain from deal with Kurds, but its ability to halt Turkey’s push depends on Russia, say analysts.
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.
Here are the latest updates:
Republican US Senator Lindsey Graham said he will introduce a bill on Thursday sanctioning Turkey for its offensive.
“I will be introducing sanctions against Turkey Thursday and I do appreciate what the (Trump) administration has done against Turkey through executive action but more to follow,” the Reuters news agency quoted Graham as telling reporters.
Erdogan said he told US President Donald Trump Turkey would never declare a ceasefire in northeastern Syria, Turkish broadcaster NTV reported.
Speaking to reporters on a flight back from Baku, Erdogan said talks with Washington and Moscow on Syria’s Kobane and Manbij towns continued, and added it was “not negative” for the Syrian army to enter Manbij as long as fighters in the area were cleared.
He also said he had told the US president that Turkey would “not negotiate with a terrorist organisation” in response to Trump’s mediation offer.
Separately, the Turkish presidency said Erdogan had told Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call that Turkey’s operation in northeastern Syria would contribute to counter-terrorism efforts, Syria’s territorial integrity and a political solution process
US military aircraft carried out a “show of force” in Syria after Turkish-backed fighters came in close proximity to the country’s forces, a US official told Reuters.
The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said US military aircraft were flown over the area after troops in northeastern Syria felt the Turkish-backed fighters were too close. The Turkish-backed fighters dispersed after the show of force, the official said.
The Pentagon did not immediately respond to requests for comment, Reuters reported.
US Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to Ankara on Wednesday to press Turkey to halt its offensive, the White House said in a statement.
Pence will meet with Erdogan during the visit.
“Vice President Pence will reiterate President Trump’s commitment to maintain punishing economic sanctions on Turkey until a resolution is reached,” the statement said.
Russia’s presidential envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, said Turkey has no right to deploy its forces in Syria permanently.
Speaking to journalists in Abu Dhabi about the Turkish military operation, Lavrentiev said that, according to earlier agreements, the Turkish military can only cross into Syria and go 5-10kms (3-6 miles) into its territory.
“We didn’t agree with the Turks any questions about their presence in Syria and we don’t approve of their actions,” he added.
Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr meanwhile said in a post on Twitter there seemed to be “serious differences” between Moscow and Ankara over the issue.
#Russia says it doesn’t approve Turkey’s military moves in #Syria and won’t accept its permanent presence. There seems to be serious differences between two countries who are supposed to be working together in Syria but diplomatic channels remain open
— Zeina Khodr (@ZeinakhodrAljaz) October 15, 2019
Kurdish fighters battled to defend the key northeastern Syrian border town of Ras al-Ain from Turkish-backed forces as Russia seized on a US withdrawal to move its troops into new areas in the region.
The SDF were mounting a desperate rearguard of the town using tunnels, berms and trenches, the AFP news agency reported.
An AFP correspondent in the area said clashes around the town continued despite Ankara’s repeated claims it had captured the area, while the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Kurdish fighters had launched “a large counterattack against Turkish forces and their Syrian proxies near Ras al-Ain”.
The Associated Press news agency reported that explosions could be seen in the area.
As Turkey presses ahead with its offensive, the strategic city of Manbij has become a potential flashpoint between its allied forces and the Syrian army.
Read more here.
Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s foreign minister, called for a meeting of the international coalition against ISIL to discuss the situation in northeastern Syria.
Speaking at the National Assembly, Le Drian acknowledged there was “some trouble” in the relationship between the European Union and the US. “That is why the coalition needs to meet,” he said.
He also called on both the US and Turkey to outline to allies how they intend to keep fighting ISIL.
Peter Szijjarto, Hungary’s foreign minister, said it was in his country’s interests for Turkey to return migrants to Syria instead of allowing them to make their way to Europe.
Szijjarto told Hungarian state media that Hungary was “looking exclusively at [its] national interests in this matter, not the interests of others”.
“Turkey should resettle the migrants in Syria and not open the doors to Europe for four million migrants,” he said.
Turkey vowed to pursue its Syria offensive and slammed a “dirty deal” between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government and Kurdish forces after the withdrawal of US forces from northern Syria.
“We will continue to combat all terrorist groups, including Daesh [ISIL], whether or not the world agrees to support our efforts,” Fahrettin Altun, Erdogan’s communications director, told AFP.
The Kurdish-led administration in northern Syria struck a deal on Sunday with al-Assad’s government to allow Syrian troops to deploy along the border with Turkey to stave off a military offensive by Ankara.
Read more on the reshaped alliances in Syria’s multilayered conflict here.
US Vice President Mike Pence will depart for Ankara within 24 hours to press Turkey for a ceasefire in its offensive, AFP quoted an unnamed US official as saying.
“We will be launching off to Ankara in the next 24 hours,” the official said, a day after Pence announced his trip to Turkey without specifying the timing.
Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, denounced Trump’s decision-making over Turkey’s offensive in Syria.
“Trump waved Turkey into Syria. He sent out a press release proudly announcing their invasion. He effectively put rose petals on the ground to welcome them,” Murphy said in a post on Twitter.
“Inviting Turkey to invade and then sanctioning them for invading is insanity,” he added. “No one should fall for it.”
Trump waved Turkey into Syria. He sent out a press release proudly announcing their invasion. He effectively put rose petals on the ground to welcome them.
Inviting Turkey to invade and then sanctioning them for invading is insanity.
No one should fall for it.
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) October 15, 2019
Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) said it had suspended most of its activities in northeastern Syria and was evacuating all international staff from the region amid Turkey’s continuing offensive.
“The people in northeast Syria have already endured years of conflict and uncertainty. The latest developments have only increased the need for humanitarian assistance, yet it is impossible to deliver it with the current insecurity,” Robert Onus, MSF’s emergency manager for Syria, said in a statement.
“We are extremely worried about the safety of our Syrian colleagues and their families who remain in northeast Syria in these troubled times,” he added.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg agreed Turkey’s military operation needed to end, a spokeswoman for Johnson’s office said.
“The Prime Minister and Secretary General both expressed their deep concern at the situation in northern Syria,” the spokeswoman said in a statement after the pair met in London.
“Both leaders stressed the value of Turkey as a NATO ally and recognised the role they have played in supporting refugees from the Syrian conflict,” she added. “But they were clear that the current Turkish operation needed to end.”
Syrian government forces had taken control of an area of more than 1,000 square kilometres around the northeastern Syrian city of Manbij, the Russian Interfax news agency reported, citing the country’s defence ministry.
Syria’s army had taken control of the Tabqa military airfield, two hydroelectric power plants and several bridges across the Euphrates river, Interfax quoted the ministry as saying.
Turkey’s defence ministry said a soldier who was wounded in a mortar attack carried out from the Kurdish-held city of Manbij had died, raising the death toll in the assault to two.
The death raises the total number of Turkish soldiers killed the start of the push to six, according to the ministry. Erdogan has said 16 Turkish-backed Syrian rebel fighters have also died.
The Turkish Red Crescent started distributing aid in the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad, Turkey’s defence ministry said in a post on Twitter.
Türk Kızılayı, Barış Pınarı Harekâtı kapsamında Mehmetçik tarafından kontrolü sağlanan Tel Abyad’da, Suriyeli kardeşlerimize yardım malzemelerini dağıtmaya başladı. @Kizilay https://t.co/sTpimdjoXk#MSB #TSK #BarışPınarıHerakatı pic.twitter.com/2wzTYTICON
— T.C. Millî Savunma Bakanlığı (@tcsavunma) October 15, 2019
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) will likely meet on Wednesday to discuss the latest developments in Syria, diplomats told Reuters.
The body’s five European members – Britain, France, Germany, Belgium and Poland – had requested the closed-door discussion, Reuters reported.
If it goes ahead, it will be the second UNSC meeting over Syria since Turkey began its offensive.
Turkey’s defence ministry said a Turkish soldier was killed and eight other troops were wounded in a mortar attack on its forces carried out from the Kurdish-held city of Manbij.
The Turkish military retaliated with an assault that “neutralised” an estimated 15 Kurdish fighters, the ministry added, a term that commonly means killed.
Turkey could be deemed responsible for summary executions by an affiliated armed group of captured Kurdish fighters and a politician, acts that may amount to war crimes, the United Nations said.
Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN human rights office, said video footage appeared to show executions of three Kurdish captives carried out by Ahrar al-Sharqiya fighters, affiliated with Turkey, on the highway between Hassakeh and Manbij on October 12.
The UN had received reports that Hevrin Khalaf, a Kurdish politician, was executed on the same highway by the same group on the same day, Colville said.
“Turkey could be deemed responsible as a state for violations by their affiliated groups as long as Turkey exercises effective control of these groups or the operations in the course of which those violations occurred,” he told a news briefing, adding that UN war crimes investigators would follow up on all incidents.
“We urge Turkish authorities immediately to launch an impartial, transparent and independent investigation and to apprehend those responsible, some of whom should be easily identifiable from the video footage they themselves shared on social media,” Colville said.
Russian troops are patrolling front lines between Turkish and Syrian army positions outside Manbij in a bid to keep the forces separated, Russia’s defence ministry said.
“No one is interested” in potential fighting between Syrian government troops and Turkish forces, Russia’s envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentyev told Russian state news agencies. Russia “is not going to allow it,” he said.
A video posted online by Russian journalists travelling with the country’s soldiers meanwhile showed what appeared to be an abandoned outpost where US troops had been stationed earlier.
German authorities called for calm after clashes between Turkish and Kurdish communities in the western city of Herne over Ankara’s offensive in northeastern Syria.
Police said at least five people were injured in fights between the two communities late on Monday.
“We have a responsibility to prevent the conflict in the region becoming a conflict in our society… in Germany,” integration commissioner Annette Widmann-Mauz told the Funke newspaper group. “I expect all sides, especially migrant organisations and religious communities, to take responsibility and contribute to restraint.”
Russia’s defence ministry said Syrian government forces have taken “full control over the city of Manbij and nearby settlements”.
Russian forces were continuing to patrol border areas along the “line of contact” between Syrian and Turkish forces, it said in a statement.
The US-led coalition fighting ISIL in Syria said it pulled all of its troops from Manbij, which is now controlled by Syrian government forces.
“Coalition forces are executing a deliberate withdrawal from northeast Syria. We are out of Manbij,” a spokesman said on Twitter.
Coalition forces are executing a deliberate withdrawal from northeast Syria. We are out of Manbij. // تقوم قوات التحالف بتنفيذ إنسحاب مدروس من شمال شرق سوريا. لقد غادرنا منبج
— OIR Spokesman Col. Wayne Marotto (@OIRSpox) October 15, 2019
The US-backed SDF forces are mostly made up of YPG fighters which Turkey considers a “terror” group linked to the PKK.
Read more here.
Syrian state media said government forces have entered the centre of the once Kurdish-held northern town of Manbij and raised the national flag.
A video released by state-run SANA news agency showed some people gathered in the main square waving Syrian flags on Tuesday morning.
The development comes days after the Kurdish-led SDF joined hands with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after Turkey launched a military offensive last week against the Kurdish fighters.
Alexander Lavrentiev, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s envoy for Syria called Turkey’s military offensive in northeast Syria “unacceptable” and complained that the operation had not been cleared by Moscow in advance, the Interfax news agency reported.
Lavrentiev also confirmed that Russia had brokered an agreement between the Syrian government and Kurdish forces that saw the Kurds cede control of territory to Syrian troops.
China called on Turkey to stop its military action in northern Syria and “return to the correct way of political resolution”.
“The sovereignty, independence, unification, and territorial integrity of Syria should be respected and upheld,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular press briefing.
“We call on Turkey to stop military action, and return to the correct way of political resolution.”
Turkish police detained four mayors from a pro-Kurdish party in dawn raids, widening a crackdown since Ankara launched an incursion into northern Syria a week ago, state media and the party said.
The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) mayors of the Kurdish-majority districts of Hakkari, Yuksekova, Ercis and Nusaybin, near Turkey’s borders with Syria and Iraq, were held over terrorism links, the HDP and Anadolu news agency said, without elaborating.
President Tayyip Erdogan and his government accuse the HDP of being linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group, and thousands of its members have been prosecuted for the same reason, including its leaders. The HDP denies such links.
British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said London will halt new arms export licences to Turkey as a result of concern over its military operation against Kurdish forces in northeast Syria.
“The UK government takes its arm export control responsibilities very seriously and in this case, of course, we will keep our defence exports to Turkey under very careful and continual review,” Raab told parliament.
“No further export licences to Turkey for items that might be used in military operations in Syria will be granted while we conduct that review.”
Spain, a major arms exporter to Turkey, similarly announced a halt to sales of military material to Ankara.
“In coordination with its European Union partners, Spain will deny new export licences for military equipment that can be used in the operation in Syria,” the country’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
Turkey’s ongoing military operation in northern Syria has led to the displacement of 275,000 people, the region’s Kurdish-led authority said.
That number includes more than 70,000 children, it added in a statement.
The week-old Turkish attack on northeast Syria has forced all international humanitarian organisations to leave the area, a statement from the local Kurdish administration said.
“The humanitarian plight of the displaced in areas targeted by the aggression has worsened with all humanitarian aid being cut and all international organisations ceasing their activities,” the statement said.
Al Jazeera, however, could not independently verify the claims.
A spokesperson for the German carmaker said the company is delaying a decision over whether to build a new factory in Turkey over Ankara’s operation in northeastern Syria.
While an announcement had been expected on a new factory worth up to 1.5 billion euros ($1.3bn) and bringing 4,000 jobs, “the Volkswagen board has delayed the decision. We are carefully observing the present situation and view current developments with concern,” the spokesman said.
Turkey’s President Erdogan promised not to allow any ISIL fighters to escape from northern Syria, in an editorial published on Tuesday, following fears from Western nations over its offensive in the region.
“We will ensure that no ISIS fighters leave northeastern Syria,” Erdogan wrote in the Wall Street Journal.
But he added that Western countries were hypocritical to worry that Turkey’s operation against Kurdish fighters risked a mass escape of ISIL fighters.
Mike McCaul, the top Republican on the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said President Donald Trump‘s economic sanctions against Turkey did not go far enough.
“We appreciate the administration’s planned sanctions, but it does not go far enough to punish Turkey for its egregious offences in Syria,” McCaul’s office said in a statement.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who has been critical of President Trump’s decision to pull American troops out of northeast Syria, said he strongly supported Trump’s decision to sanction Turkey over its attack on Syria.
“The president’s team has a plan and I intend to support them as strongly as possible, and to give them reasonable time and space to achieve our mutual goals,” Graham said in a statement.
Mark Esper, the US defence secretary, has said he will meet NATO allies next week to press them to take “diplomatic and economic measures” in response to Turkey’s operation into Syria.
In a statement, Esper said Turkey’s military action “was unnecessary and impulsive” and could result in the resurgence of ISIL.
The United Kingdom is reviewing all arms export licences to Turkey amid mounting concern over Ankara’s cross-border military push, the Financial Times reported, citing unnamed officials.
British ministers have suspended issuing new licences for weapons sales to Turkey while the review is being conducted, the newspaper added.
The report came after Italy, the top arms exporter to Turkey last year, joined a ban on selling weapons and ammunition to Ankara after a weekend decision by France and Germany to suspend sales, and Spain signalled it was ready to do so.
US President Trump said he would “soon” impose a package of sanctions on Turkey over the latter’s military offensive in Syria.
“The United States will aggressively use economic sanctions to target those who enable, facilitate and finance these heinous acts in Syria,” Trump said in a statement.
“I am fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey’s economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path,” he added.
Statement from President Donald J. Trump Regarding Turkey’s Actions in Northeast Syria pic.twitter.com/ZCQC7nzmME
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 14, 2019
Trump also said that US troops coming out of Syria would redeploy and remain in the region to monitor the situation and help prevent the revival of ISIL.
Read more here.
The Turkish presidency said Erdogan held a phone conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron during which he explained to the French president the goals of Ankara’s operation in northeast Syria.
Erdogan told his French counterpart the operation would contribute to regional and global peace and stability, according to the presidency.
European Union countries agreed earlier in the day to limit arms exports to Turkey over its offensive, prompting condemnation from Ankara, even as they stopped short of a bloc-wide embargo against the NATO ally.
Read previous updates here.