Turkey presses as­sault on Kurds

The Morning Call - - NATION & WORLD -

showed lit­tle sign of hold­ing back: The Turk­ish De­fense Mil­i­tary said its jets and ar­tillery had struck 181 tar­gets so far.

Turk­ish For­eign Min­is­ter Mev­lut Cavu­soglu said the mil­i­tary in­tends to move 19 miles into north­ern Syria and that its op­er­a­tion will last un­til all “ter­ror­ists are neu­tral­ized.”

More than a dozen col­umns of thick smoke rose in and around the Syr­ian town of Tel Abyad, one of the of­fen­sive’s first main tar­gets. Turk­ish of­fi­cials said the Kur­dish mili­tia has fired dozens of mor­tars into Turk­ish bor­der towns, in­clud­ing Ak­cakale.

As the shelling in­ten­si­fied, cars packed with civil­ians crowded a bridge link­ing Syria and Iraq. “When we came, there were about four lanes of cars on the road and a 1-kilo­me­ter-long queue of cars,” said Mu­rad Has­san, a Syr­ian Kurd from Qamishli.

Turk­ish of­fi­cials in two bor­der prov­inces said mor­tar fire from Syria killed six civil­ians, in­clud­ing a 9-month-old boy and three girls un­der 15. On the Syr­ian side, seven civil­ians and eight Kur­dish fight­ers have been killed since the op­er­a­tion be­gan, ac­cord­ing to ac­tivists in Syria.

A Kur­dish-led group and Syr­ian ac­tivists said that de­spite the bom­bard­ment, Turk­ish troops had not made much progress. Their claims could not be ver­i­fied.

Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan said 109 “ter­ror­ists” were killed, a ref­er­ence to the Syr­ian Kur­dish fight­ers. He did not elab­o­rate, and re­ports from the area did not in­di­cate any­thing re­motely close to such a large num­ber of ca­su­al­ties.

Er­do­gan also warned the Eu­ro­pean Union not to call Ankara’s in­cur­sion into Syria an “in­va­sion.” He threat­ened, as he has in the past, to “open the gates” and let Syr­ian refugees flood into Europe.

Mean­while, the Kur­dish forces halted all op­er­a­tions against IS in or­der to fo­cus on fight­ing Turk­ish troops, Kur­dish and U.S. of­fi­cials said. The Syr­ian Kur­dish fight­ers, along with U.S. troops, have been in­volved in mop­ping-up op­er­a­tions against IS fight­ers in the desert after their ter­ri­to­rial hold was top­pled ear­lier this year.

Ankara says the Kur­dish mili­tia is linked to the out­lawed Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Party, or PKK, which has led an in­sur­gency against Turkey for 35 years. The con­flict has killed tens of thou­sands of peo­ple. The U.S. and other Western coun­tries also deem the PKK a ter­ror­ist group.

Turkey, a NATO mem­ber, con­sid­ers its op­er­a­tions against the Kur­dish mili­tia in Syria a mat­ter of sur­vival, and it also in­sists it won’t tol­er­ate the vir­tual self-rule that the Kurds have carved out in north­ern Syria along the bor­der.

The Turk­ish as­sault aims to cre­ate a cor­ri­dor of con­trol along the length of the bor­der — a so-called safe zone — clear­ing out the Kur­dish fight­ers. Such a zone would end the Kurds’ au­ton­omy in the area and put much of their pop­u­la­tion un­der Turk­ish con­trol. Ankara wants to set­tle 2 mil­lion Syr­ian refugees, mainly Arabs, in the zone.

Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Kur­dish-led Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces, said their fight­ers re­pelled the Turk­ish ground at­tacks. “No ad­vance as of now,” he tweeted Thurs­day.

But Maj. Youssef Ham­moud, a spokesman for Turk­ish-backed op­po­si­tion fight­ers in the op­er­a­tion, said they cap­tured the vil­lage of Yabisa, near Tal Abyad, a spokesman for the fight­ers said. In a tweet, he called it “the first vil­lage to win free­dom.”

The refugee agency UNHCR said tens of thou­sands of peo­ple have fled their homes since Wed­nes­day, while the Bri­tain­based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights put the fig­ure at more than 60,000.

EMRAH GUREL/AP

Peo­ple in Ak­cakale, Turkey, at the bor­der with Syria, watch smoke bil­low­ing in­side Syria, dur­ing bom­bard­ment Thurs­day by Turk­ish forces.

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