The National - News
Turkey presses assault on Syria’s Kurds as thousands flee
Turkey pressed its assault against US-allied Kurdish forces in northern Syria on Thursday for a second day, pounding the region with air strikes and an artillery bombardment that left at least 60,000 panicked civilians scrambling to get out, according to the United Nations and a war monitor.
The flight, reported by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, sparked new fears of a humanitarian crisis with an estimated 700,000 people in areas of northern Syria where Turkey has set its sights.
At least 23 Syrian Democratic Forces fighters were killed, as well as six fighters with a Turkish-backed Syrian rebel group, according to the Observatory. The SDF said Turkish air strikes and shelling had killed nine civilians.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said more than 100 militants had been killed. US President Donald Trump tried to justify the de facto green light he showed to his Turkish counterpart for an assault seen as a blatant betrayal of Washington’s Kurdish former allies.
After launching the assault with air strikes and intense artillery fire, the Turkish military and its Syrian proxies crossed the border into Kurdish-controlled areas.
A US representative for the political arm of Kurdish-led fighters in north-east Syria on Thursday repeated a call to impose a no-fly zone amid a Turkish offensive in the area and urged the international community to help stop the attack.
The broad offensive – which Mr Erdogan called Operation Peace Spring – drew international outrage and warnings, including from within Mr Trump’s own camp, and was discussed in an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council late on Thursday.
“We ask for a no-fly zone over our area. At least we will not have civilian casualties then,” said Sinam Mohamad, the US co-chair of the Syrian
Democratic Council, the political arm of the Syrian Democratic Forces.
French President Emmanuel Macron urged Turkey to immediately end its offensive against Kurdish forces in north Syria, saying it risked boosting ISIS.
“I condemn vehemently the unilateral military offensive in Syria and I urge Turkey to put an end to it as quickly as possible,” Mr Macron said in the French city of Lyon. “Turkey is today forgetting that the priority of the international community in Syria is the fight against Daesh and terrorism.
“It is creating a humanitarian risk for millions of people.”
Jurgen Schulz, Germany’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, said Turkey should end its offensive because it was jeopardising international security.
“We fear that this operation runs the risk of further destabilising the entire region and also re-strengthening ISIS,” he said in New York.
“Syria has been severely impacted by this terrible war for eight years and we are now on the verge of starting a political process with the constitutional committee – this is what we need. However, the Turkish operation threatens to unleash another humanitarian catastrophe as well as new refugee movements. We therefore call on Turkey to cease its operation and to pursue its security interests in a peaceful manner.”
Mark Lowcock, the UN’s humanitarian aid co-ordinator, is in Ankara on a two-day trip planned before Turkey began its offensive.
Although he was to discuss cross-border aid operations from Turkey into Syria, a spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said
Mr Lowcock was “very concerned about the impact of military operations.”
Mr Lowcock will be in the border town of Gaziantep on Friday. “We have humanitarian personnel where we believe people may be fleeing for safety,” said UN spokesman Farhan Haq, noting that staff were not directly in the line of fire of Turkish military operations.
Turkey faces repercussions from the very country that allowed it to begin its operation: the US. It could face sanctions under proposals put forward by Republican senator Lindsey Graham and a Democrat colleague, which would target Mr Erdogan and top officials.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday that Turkey would retaliate if the US imposed any sanctions over its military incursion. Mr Trump had threatened to hurt the Turkish economy if the country went too far in its operation, but it remains unclear how he will react to the latest moves by Ankara.