Turkish, Kurdish forces battle for key Syrian border town

0
269
In this photo taken from the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria, in Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, smoke and dust billows from targets in Ras al-Ayn, Syria, caused by bombardment by Turkish forces, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. Turkish artillery on Tuesday pounded suspected Syrian Kurdish positions near the town in northeast Syria amid reports that Kurdish fighters had retaken the town as Turkey pressed ahead with a military incursion that has drawn widespread condemnation. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
In this photo taken from the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria, in Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, smoke and dust billows from targets in Ras al-Ayn, Syria, caused by bombardment by Turkish forces, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. Turkish artillery on Tuesday pounded suspected Syrian Kurdish positions near the town in northeast Syria amid reports that Kurdish fighters had retaken the town as Turkey pressed ahead with a military incursion that has drawn widespread condemnation. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Ceylanpinar, Turkey (AP) — Turkey defied growing condemnation from its NATO allies to press ahead with its invasion of northern Syria on Tuesday, shelling suspected Kurdish positions near the border amid reports that Syrian Kurds had retaken a key town.

Targeting Turkey’s economy, U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday announced sanctions aimed at restraining the Turks’ assault against Kurdish fighters and civilians in Syria — an assault Turkey began after Trump announced he was moving U.S. troops out of the way.

The United States also called on Turkey to stop the offensive and declare a cease-fire, while European Union countries moved to broaden an arms sale embargo against their easternmost ally.

Now in its seventh day, Turkey’s offensive has sowed fear and chaos in an already war-weary region — and upended alliances amid Syria’s eight-year conflict.

An Associated Press journalist reported heavy bombardment of targets in the countryside of Ras al-Ayn early on Tuesday, days after Turkey announced that it had captured the border town. Turkish jets also carried out at least one airstrike.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitoring group, reported that Syrian Kurdish fighters had retaken the town.

Turkish media reports said Turkey’s military was responding to attempts by the Kurdish fighters to infiltrate Ras al-Ayn.

The renewed battle for the border town follows the deployment of Syria’s army near the Turkish border, after Syrian Kurdish forces — saying they had been abandoned by their U.S. ally — reached a deal with President Bashar Assad’s government to help them fend off Turkey’s invasion.

Assad’s return to the region his troops abandoned in 2012 at the height of the Syrian civil war is a turning point in the conflict, giving yet another major boost to his government and its Russian backers and is like to endanger, if not altogether crush, the brief experiment in self-rule set up by Syria’s Kurds since the conflict began.

Washington said Trump was sending Vice President Mike Pence and national security adviser Robert O’Brien to Ankara as soon as possible in an attempt to begin negotiations over a stop to the fighting. Pence said Trump spoke directly to Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who promised not to attack the border town of Kobani, which in 2015 witnessed the Islamic State group’s first defeat in a battle by U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters.

A Turkish military official, meanwhile denied reports that Turkey had begun an assault on the Kurdish-held town of Manbij, without giving further detail.

The Manbij region is home to U.S. outposts that were set up in 2017 to patrol the tense frontiers between Turkish-controlled areas and the Kurdish-held side of northern Syria. A U.S. official said troops are still in the town, preparing to leave.

On Monday Syrian fighters backed by Turkey had said they had started an offensive to capture Manbij, which is on the western flank of the Euphrates River, broadening their campaign east of the river.

Erdogan for his part defended Turkey’s offensive in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, calling on the international community to support Turkey’s effort to create what it calls a resettlement “safe zone” for refugees in northeast Syria, or “begin admitting refugees.”

“Turkey reached its limit,” Erdogan wrote in reference to 3.6 million Syrian refugees in his country.  He said Turkey’s warnings that it would not be able to stop refugee floods into the West without international support “fell on deaf ears.”

Mroue reported from Beirut. Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser contributed from Ankara, Turkey.