Tag Archives: Turkish

Canadian Cyle Larin continues scoring tear in Turkish league play

Canadian forward Cyle Larin added to his goals total in the Turkish Super Lig on Thursday scoring in league-leading Besiktas’ 4-1 win at Fatih Karagumruk.

The 25-year-old from Brampton, Ont., made it 3-0 for the Black Eagles in the 66th minute, sliding to knock a cross from left back Ridvan Yilmaz into the corner of the goal.


Larin kissed the club crest on his jersey and pounded his chest in celebration after the goal

Larin who came into the game having scored six times in his previous four outings, is second in the Turkish Super Lig scoring race with 12 goals. He also has three goals in other competitions.

Veteran Canadian midfielder Atiba Hutchinson also started for Besiktas, which tops the Turkish table at 13-4-2.

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At least 6 killed as 7.0 magnitude quake in Aegean Sea shakes Turkish coast, Greek island of Samos

A strong earthquake struck Friday in the Aegean Sea between the west coast of Turkey and the Greek island of Samos, collapsing buildings in the city of Izmir in western Turkey, and officials said at least six people were killed and scores were injured.

A small tsunami struck the Seferisar district of Izmir, said Haluk Ozener, director of the Istanbul-based Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute. At least four people were slightly injured on Samos, where a tsunami warning was issued.

Six people were killed in Izmir, Turkey’s third-largest city, including one who drowned, and 202 were injured, according to Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency, or AFAD. 

Izmir Gov. Yavuz Selim Kosger said at least 70 people had been rescued from the wreckage. He said four buildings were destroyed and more than 10 collapsed, while others also were damaged.


Rescue workers and locals check for residents trapped in the debris of a collapsed building in Izmir. (Ismail Gokmen/The Associated Press)

Search and rescue efforts were continuing in at least 12 buildings, AFAD said.

Turkish media showed wreckage of a multiple-storey building, with people climbing it to start rescue efforts. Smoke rose from several spots.

Videos on Twitter showed flooding in the Seferhisar district, and Turkish officials and broadcasters called on people to stay off the streets after reports of traffic congestion.

AFAD said Friday’s earthquake was centred in the Aegean at a depth of 16.5 kilometres and registered at a 6.6 magnitude. The emergency authority said it sent search and rescue teams to Izmir.


(CBC News)

The European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre said the quake had a preliminary magnitude of 6.9, with an epicentre 13 kilometres north northeast of the Greek island of Samos.

The United States Geological Survey put the magnitude at 7.0. It is common for preliminary magnitudes to differ in the early hours and days after a quake.

Turkish media said the earthquake was felt across the regions of Aegean and Marmara, including Istanbul. Istanbul’s governor said there were no reports of damage in the city.

Turkey sits on top of two major fault lines and earthquakes are frequent. Dozens were killed in an earthquake in January, mostly in Elazig province. Two strong earthquakes struck northwest Turkey in 1999, killing around 18,000 people.


Locals and officials search for survivors at a collapsed building in Izmir on Friday afternoon. (Tuncay Dersinlioglu/Reuters)

Greek island residents flee

The quake was felt across the eastern Greek islands and even in the Greek capital Athens. Greek media said the residents of Samos and other islands fled their homes, while some rockfalls were reported. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Turkey and Greece reported aftershocks. The quake was also felt in Bulgaria.


A car is seen destroyed in the aftermath of Friday’s earthquake in Samos, Greece. (Eurokinissi/AFP/Getty Images)

Greek seismologist Efthymios Lekkas told Greek state television ERT that it was still too early to say whether this was the main earthquake, although he said it likely was.

“It is an event that is evolving,” Lekkas said, adding that some damage had been reported in parts of Samos.

A tsunami warning was issued, with residents of the Samos area told to stay away from the coastline. Water rose above the dock in the main harbour of Samos and flooded the street.

The regional governor of the Samos region, Yiannis Stamoulis, said no injuries had been reported on the island. Residents have also been told to stay away from buildings, as aftershocks continued to rattle the area.

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Turkish soccer player confesses to killing son in hospital

Turkish authorities have arrested a former top-tier soccer player who confessed to killing his 5-year-old son while the boy was being treated in a hospital on suspicion of a COVID-19 infection.

Cevher Toktas, 32, handed himself over to police and confessed to having smothered his son, Kasim, with a pillow on May 4, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

The boy’s death was initially not believed to be suspicious, although he tested negative for COVID-19. His body has been exhumed for an autopsy as part of the investigation, Anadolu reported.

HaberTurk television reported that Toktas, who currently plays with amateur league team Bursa Yildirimspor, told police that he tried to suffocate his son because he did not love him, and turned himself in to police 11 days later because he felt remorse.

The boy was admitted to the children’s hospital in the northwestern province of Bursa with a cough and high fever on April 23 — an official Turkish public holiday celebrating children — and placed in isolation along with his father.

Soon after, Toktas said, he smothered the boy and called for help, saying Kasim had taken a turn for the worse. The 5-year-old was rushed to the hospital’s intensive care unit, where he died two hours later.

No trial date has been set yet.

Between 2007 and 2009, Toktas played for the Hacettepe soccer team, which briefly competed in the Turkish top-tier Super League.

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Turkish official says 22 soldiers killed in airstrike by Syrian government forces

World·Breaking

An airstrike by Syrian government forces in Syria’s northwestern Idlib region killed 22 Turkish soldiers, the local governor in the southeastern province of Hatay said early Friday.

News of strike follows word that Turkish forces helped Syrian rebels retake key northwestern town

Syrian fighters load an artillery near Idlib earlier Thursday. A Turkish official says 22 soldiers area dead after an airstrike by Syrian government forces in the area. (Umit Bektas/Reuters)

An airstrike by Syrian government forces in Syria’s northwestern Idlib region killed 22 Turkish soldiers, the local governor in the southeastern province of Hatay said early Friday.

He had previously said the death toll from the strike was nine Turkish soldiers.

More to come.

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Turkish offensive in northern Syria only ‘a matter of time,’ Erdogan says

Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday a Turkish military operation to push back a Syrian government offensive against rebel strongholds in northwest Syria was now only “a matter of time” after talks with Russia failed to halt the assault.

Turkish troops have already massed inside Syria ready to act and more were heading to the border area.

The Kremlin, which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said a confrontation between Turkish and Syrian forces would be a “worst-case scenario” and Russia would keep working to prevent the situation from worsening.

Syrian troops supported by Russian warplanes and special forces have been battling since December to eradicate the last rebel bastions in Idlib and Aleppo provinces in what could be one of the final chapters of the nine-year-old civil war.

Nearly one million civilians have fled from air strikes and artillery barrages toward the frontier, overwhelming relief agencies and alarming Turkey, which is struggling to cope with the 3.6 million Syrian refugees already camped inside its borders.


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses parliament, in Ankara on Wednesday. Erdogan said that time was running up for Syrian government forces to retreat from Idlib province and warned of an ‘imminent’ Turkish intervention to force the retreat. (Burhan Ozbilici/The Associated Press)

Speaking to lawmakers from his ruling AK Party on Wednesday, Erdogan said Turkey was determined to make Idlib a secure zone even while talks with Moscow continued. Several rounds of diplomacy had failed to reach an agreement so far, he said.

“We are entering the last days for the regime to stop its hostility in Idlib. We are making our final warnings,” said Erdogan, whose country has the second-largest army in NATO.

“Turkey has made every preparation to carry out its own operational plans. I say that we can come at any point. In other words, the Idlib offensive is only a matter of time.”

The Turkish leader on Saturday appeared to move forward the end-of-February deadline for a Syrian withdrawal from Idlib that he had previously stated.

Assad, whose family dynasty has ruled Syria for nearly half a century, has showed no sign of bowing to the demand, saying on Monday that his military gains presaged the eventual defeat of his foes. They include Turkish-backed rebels and jihadist militants.

An opposition military source told Reuters that 15,000 Turkish soldiers were now in northwest Syria after numerous convoys of reinforcements and weaponry had poured into the territory in recent days.

“You can’t imagine the scale of Turkish reinforcements, half of Reyhanli is now full of Turkish commandoes ready to enter Syria,” he said, referring to a Turkish border town. “They are readying their forces for zero hour, operations are expected to start any time.”

‘No shelter is now safe’

Ankara and Moscow signed an agreement in 2018 to establish a de-escalation zone in Idlib allowing both sides to set up observation posts. Since the escalation in the conflict, both sides have accused each other of flouting the agreement.

In Moscow on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Syrian forces were upholding previous agreements but also reacting to provocations.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov also said: “If we talk about an operation against legitimate Syrian authorities and armed forces, it is of course a worst-case scenario.”


Internally displaced people ride with their belongings in Afrin, Syria on Tuesday. Close to 900,000 people, most of them women and children, have fled their homes in dreadful winter conditions since December, according to the United Nations. (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)

Russia has a naval base at Tartus and an airbase at Hmeimim. Its war planes launched an air campaign in Syria in 2015, turning the tide of the war in Assad’s favour.

The recent airstrikes in the northwest have hit hospitals and camps for displaced people, the United Nations has said. Close to 900,000 people, most of them women and children, have fled their homes in dreadful winter conditions since December in the biggest displacement of the war.

In the past week the Syrian army has taken full control of dozens of towns in the Aleppo countryside and the M5 highway linking Damascus to Aleppo.

The United Nation human rights chief urged Syrian government forces and their allies to allow safe corridors in conflict areas in northwestern Syria.

Michelle Bachelet told reporters in Geneva it was “cruel beyond belief” that civilians live under plastic sheeting in freezing conditions while getting bombed.

Many of the civilians are sleeping in open fields and under trees in freezing temperatures.

“No shelter is now safe,” Bachelet said. “And as the government offensive continues and people are forced into smaller and smaller pockets, I fear even more people will be killed.”

Over 700,000 civilians have tried to flee fighting in Syria’s north-west Idlib province since December, but with a closed Turkish border, people are effectively trapped. 7:06

About half the region’s population had already fled other parts of Syria, and displacement refugee camps are full. Aid organizations, including the UN World Food Program, have been forced to stop food distribution temporarily because the fighting has disrupted the movement of trucks bringing supplies to the region.

“Children and families are caught between the violence, the biting cold, the lack of food and the desperate living conditions. Such abject disregard for the safety and well-being of children and families is beyond the pale and must not go on,” said Henrietta Ford, executive director of the UN’s children agency.

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‘Catastrophe’ looms as displaced Syrians flee toward closed Turkish border

“The children. Thousands of children under the trees.”  

That’s the answer that came crackling back from Dr. Tammam Lodami on the phone from the northern Syrian town of al-Dana when asked for a description of conditions on the ground.  

North of Idlib city and west of Aleppo, the town is caught between a two-pronged advance by Syrian government troops and their Russian backers as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad seeks to regain control of the last opposition enclave in the country.  

“This is the case,” Lodami said as he struggled to convey the scale of the crisis he’s witnessing, the arrival of tens of thousands of Syrians displaced by the conflict and headed towards a closed Turkish border with no shelter and temperatures dipping as low as –7 C.  

“My English is humble,” he said. “I want to reach my voice to the world.”  

But very little seems capable of permeating the indifference of the world and that elusive body known as the diplomatic community these days, not even when warnings sound of another possible escalation in a war about to enter its 10th year.  


Dr. Tammam Lodami, a dentist who now works as an administrator for the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations in the northern Syrian town of al-Dana, says the town where he normally practises is overflowing with people displaced from elsewhere in the country. (Submitted by Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations)

“You can consider these days as a catastrophe,” said Lodami, a dentist by trade who now works for the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM).

“Families leave their towns and homes for fear of indiscriminate bombardment. [The Syrian regime forces] target hospitals, medical centres, ambulances, schools, markets and civilians. Everything.”

‘Fastest-growing displacement’

Syria has spent the war systematically corralling rebel opposition fighters, extremist groups, political activists and hundreds of thousands of displaced people into Idlib province.

Now the Assad regime seems to be coming for its opponents, among them al-Qaeda-linked miliants, with Russian airstrikes paving a brutal path for troops on the ground.  

Regime forces began their advance in April 2019,  but it has been picking up steam.  Some 800,000 Syrians have fled their homes in northwestern Syria since early December, according to the UN’s office for humanitarian affairs.

On Tuesday, spokesperson Jens Laerke described it as the largest number of people displaced in a single period since the start of the Syrian crisis almost nine years ago.

It’s “the fastest-growing displacement we’ve ever seen in the country,” he said at a news conference in Geneva.  


An internally displaced girl looks out from a tent in Azaz, Syria, on Thursday. (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)

It’s not difficult to understand why when faced with the daily images of the damned coming out of Idlib:  relatives weeping over the charred bodies of loved ones killed in airstrikes, White Helmet rescue workers plucking bloodied and crying children out of the rubble.  

Roads leading toward the Turkish border are clogged with vehicles loaded down with families lucky enough to have them or to clamber on carrying what they can.

Many are headed toward Atmeh, a sprawling camp of about one million people along Syria’s still-closed border with Turkey.

‘Emergency conditions’

Dr. Okbaa Jaddou, a pediatrician there, said their hospital has only 40 beds.

“On [these] beds, we put 80 [children] or maybe 120 [children], because [there are]  so many people now,” he said in a Skype interview on Wednesday. “We are operating in emergency conditions.”

Originally from Hama, a city further south, Jaddou has been living at Atma for two years.  

“I was displaced and I [haven’t] found any place more safe than the Syrian-Turkish border because the [Syrian] regime has bombed everywhere.”  

“If the situation [continues], we are going to see a very big crisis on the Turkish-Syrian border.”


Internally displaced people receive bread at a makeshift camp in Azaz, Syria, on Thursday. (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)

Idlib was supposed to be a “de-escalation zone,” agreed to in a ceasefire deal worked out between Turkey, which supports some rebel groups inside Idlib, and Russia.

An estimated 1,800 civilians, according to new reports, have been killed since then.  

The recent deaths of a number of Turkish soldiers killed by Syrian shelling has raised tensions considerably. Earlier this week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered troop reinforcements to the border.

Alarm bells

“If there is the smallest injury to our soldiers on the observation posts or other places, I am declaring from here that we will hit the regime forces everywhere from today,” he said to thundering applause in the Turkish parliament, “regardless of the lines of the [ceasefire].”  

The prospect of Syrian and Turkish troops trading fire in a direct confrontation has sounded alarm bells.  

“What we must absolutely prevent is this developing into wider conflict between the Turks, the Syrians and the Russians,” said Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a director of the group Doctors Under Fire and an adviser to NGOs working in Syria.

An ex-soldier and chemical weapons expert, he would like to see NATO countries, including Canada, do more to support Turkey in the current crisis.

But Turkey has also angered Western allies in recent months by moving against Syrian Kurds in the northeast credited with helping allied troops fighting the Islamic State or ISIS.  


Roads leading towards the Turkish border are clogged with vehicles loaded down with families. (Submitted by Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations)

De Bretton-Gordan said the view in the United Kingdom at least is that it shouldn’t get involved until it’s all over and then help to pick up the pieces.  

“You know, I’ve had meetings with British government ministers asking for this but there is a view certainly here in London that the whole of Idlib that’s not under Turkish or Russian control is being run by the Jihadis. That’s just not the case.”  

Doctors on the ground at the Bab al Hawa hospital near the Turkish border estimate that 95 per cent of the victims of the latest offensive are civilian, with two-thirds women and children.  

Morale threatened

“Three million civilians trapped,” said de Bretton-Gordon. “If there’s no medical support to help them, their morale completely goes. And as we know at the moment, most of them are rushing towards the Turkish border.”  

The presence of a stronger Turkish military presence along that border offers comfort to those sheltering nearby, according to Jaddou, but few believe Turkey is strong enough to face Syria given the Russian and Iranian allies supporting Damascus.  

“Ten minutes ago, I heard four bombings from Turkish cannons,” he said.  

“But these four bombings cannot change the situation because Russia supports the Assad regime with their war planes.

“Idlib, the last opposition castle, is going to surrender. Because people with only rifles cannot fight war planes.”  


Lodami described an ever-growing ‘catastrophe’ to CBC News by phone from al-Dana in Idlib province, where for the past few days he says he’s witnessed thousands of Syrians trying to escape fierce fighting. (Submitted by Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations)

In al-Dana, Lodami doesn’t want to talk about the Turkish-Syrian confrontation. It’s a political question and he is concerned with helping the needy, he said.  

“How we will [face] our God with the children?” he asks. “All the world.  All the world there is a very big problem. They don’t give any care or interest in these children and women under the trees.”  

Ask him what their immediate needs are and the answer comes without a pause.

“We need peace. Just peace.” 

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Russia warns Syrian-Kurdish YPG must pull back or face Turkish army

Russia warned Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) forces on Wednesday they face further armed conflict with Turkey if they fail to comply with a Russian-Turkish accord calling for their withdrawal from the entire length of Syria’s northeastern border with Turkey.

Moscow’s warning came shortly before Russian and Syrian security forces were due to start overseeing the removal of YPG fighters and weapons at least 30 kilometres into Syria, under the deal struck by Russian and Turkish presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

A complete pullout of the YPG would mark a victory for Erdogan, who launched a cross-border offensive on Oct. 9 to drive the Kurdish militia from the border and create a “safe zone” for the return of Syrian refugees.

The accord, which expands on a U.S.-brokered deal last week, also underlines Putin’s dominant influence in Syria and seals the return of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces to northeast Syria for the first time in years. The Kremlin has endorsed the deployment of Syrian border guards from noon local time on Wednesday.

Next Tuesday, Russian and Turkish forces will jointly start to patrol a 10 kilometre strip of land in northeast Syria where U.S. troops for years were deployed along with their former Kurdish allies.


Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during their meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Tuesday. (Sergei Chirikov/Reuters)

Those changes reflect the dizzying pace of changes in Syria since U.S. President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American forces from northern Syria earlier this month, shaking up the military balance across a quarter of the country after eight years of conflict.

Kurdish militia commanders have yet to respond to the deal reached in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi, and it was not immediately clear how their withdrawal could be enforced.

Russia’s warning 

A joint Turkish-Russian statement issued after six hours of talks between Putin and Erdogan said they would establish a “joint monitoring and verification mechanism” to oversee implementation of the agreement.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov was more blunt. If Kurdish forces did not retreat, Syrian border guards and Russian military police would have to fall back. “And remaining Kurdish formations would then fall under the weight of the Turkish army,” he said.

In a swipe at Washington, which has called into question how the deal will be guaranteed, Peskov said the U.S. had been the closest ally of the Kurdish fighters but had now betrayed them.

“Now they [the Americans] prefer to leave the Kurds at the border and almost force them to fight the Turks,” he said in remarks to Russian news agencies.


Turkey-backed Syrian rebel fighters near the border town of Tal Abyad in Syria on Tuesday. (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were Washington’s main allies in the fight to dismantle the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) self-declared caliphate in Syria. Trump’s decision to pull troops out was criticized by U.S. lawmakers, including fellow Republicans, as a betrayal.

In a further sign of growing ties between Ankara and Moscow, which have alarmed the U.S. administration, the head of Russia’s defence sales agency was quoted on Wednesday as saying Moscow could deliver more S-400 missile defence systems to Turkey.

Overnight, Turkey’s Defence Ministry said the U.S. told Ankara the YPG had completed its withdrawal from the area of Turkey’s military offensive.

There was no need to initiate another operation outside the current area of operation at this stage, the ministry said, effectively ending a military offensive that began two weeks ago and drew global criticism.

Turkey reviews military plans 

While Tuesday’s deal in Sochi addresses Turkey’s call for the YPG to be pushed back from the border, it also means Ankara will have to deepen its security coordination with Damascus after years of hostility between Erdogan and Assad.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday that Turkey has no direct contact with Assad’s government, but “there could be contact at the intelligence level, this is natural.”


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visits Syrian army troops in war-torn northwestern Idlib province of Syria on Tuesday. (SANA/Handout via Reuters )

Three Turkish officials said this week Ankara was already holding covert contacts with Damascus to avert direct conflict in northeast Syria.

Ankara may also have to moderate its own military ambitions in the region. Turkish security sources said Ankara was re-evaluating a plan to set up 12 observation posts in northeastern Syria in the wake of the deal.

That change reflects the fact that Turkey, which had aimed to be the dominant force in the “safe zone” area, will now have to share that territory with Assad and Putin, who have both said that Turkish forces cannot remain in Syria in the long term.

“The most significant part of the Russian-Turkish agreement is the arrival of the Syrian border guard to the northeast, something both Damascus and Russia sought for a long time,” said Yury Barmin, a Middle East specialist at Moscow Policy Group.

“This also means de facto recognition of Assad by Erdogan.”

Kurdish man sets self on fire outside UN

In a suspected public display of disapproval over the recent events in Syria, a Kurdish man in his 30s set himself on fire outside the UN refugee agency headquarters in Geneva on Wednesday

The man, who resides in Germany, was flown by helicopter to the specialized burns unit at the university hospital in Lausanne, where he is receiving treatment, said Silvain Guillaume-Gentil, Geneva police spokesperson.

“Given his state, it was impossible to ask him about his motive, but we imagine that it was the political situation.”

“We are saddened and shocked [about] an incident of self-immolation that happened in front of our Geneva headquarters this morning,” said Andrej Mahecic, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The man had set himself ablaze and then tried to enter the UNHCR building, but security officers and medical services intervened and the fire was put out, Mahecic said, adding: “We hope he will recover.”

The UNHCR building is across the street from a collective shelter for asylum seekers, including Syrian-Kurds.

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Canadian couple released from Turkish detention without charges

CBC News has learned that a Canadian couple who were detained in Turkey for months has been released without charges and are heading back to Canada.

A senior government source told CBC News the couple’s problems began when they took a drive along the Syrian border in July. That prompted the Turkish authorities to pick them up on suspicion of terror-related activity.  

On Tuesday, Haleema Mustafa and Ikar Mao were released and free to return to Canada. They will not face any charges.

Sources told CBC News the Turkish government had been preparing terror-related charges against them because they were suspected of trying to join ISIS.

The case was deemed confidential within the Turkish court system.

Friends and family members told CBC News the RCMP had questioned them on whether the couple had been radicalized.

Security officials told CBC News the pair were not on any watch list before they left for Turkey and were not being monitored by Canadian officials. 

It’s not clear what prompted Mustafa and Mao’s release after three months in custody.

On a website for travellers looking for free accommodation, Mao had written that he and his wife wanted to find somewhere to stay in Sanliurfa, a Turkish city less than 50 kilometres from the Syrian border, known as a hotspot for human smuggling and a gateway for foreign fighters attempting to enter Syria.

He said they wanted to learn Turkish and Arabic and wanted to move there soon. 

Neither Mustafa nor Mao’s family has responded to requests for comment. 

Media spokespeople at Global Affairs Canada did not immediately get back to CBC News.

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Syrian army moves to confront Turkish forces as U.S. withdraws

Syria’s army deployed near the Turkish border on Monday, hours after Syrian Kurdish forces previously allied with the U.S. said they had reached a deal with Damascus to help them fend off Turkey’s invasion.

The announcement of a deal between Syria’s Kurds and its government is a major shift in alliances that came after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered all U.S. troops withdrawn from the northern border area amid the rapidly deepening chaos.

The shift sets up a potential clash between Turkey and Syria and raises the spectre of a resurgent Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as the U.S. relinquishes any remaining influence in northern Syria to President Bashar al-Assad and his chief backer, Russia.

On Monday morning, Syria’s state news agency said that the army had moved into the town of Tal Tamr, which is about 20 kilometres from the Turkish border.

SANA said government forces would “confront the Turkish aggression,” without giving further details. Photos posted by SANA showed several vehicles and a small number of troops.

Turkey presses on

Tal Tamr is a predominantly Assyrian Christian town that was once held by ISIS before it was retaken by Kurdish-led forces. Many Syrian Christians, who make up about 10 per cent of Syria’s pre-war population of 23 million, left for Europe over the past 20 years, with the flight gathering speed since the country’s conflict began in March 2011.

SANA did not say from which area the Syrian army had moved into the town.

Despite widespread criticism from its NATO allies in Europe and the U.S., Turkey has pressed on with its offensive into northern Syria.

Turkish forces appeared set to launch an operation on the town of Manbij farther west on Monday, according to CNN-Turk, which said the forces had reached the city’s edge.

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Turkish forces push deeper into northeastern Syria as NATO chief urges restraint

Turkish forces pushed deeper into northeastern Syria on Friday, the third day of a cross-border offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters that has set off another mass displacement of civilians and met with widespread criticism from the international community.

There were casualties on both sides and Turkey reported its first military fatality, saying a soldier was “martyred” in the fighting. The invasion came after U.S. President Donald Trump opened the way for it by pulling U.S. troops from their positions near the border and abandoning U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters.

NATO’s secretary general, meanwhile, urged Turkey to exercise restraint — though he acknowledged what he said is Turkey’s legitimate security concern about the Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Jens Stoltenberg also expressed his worry Turkey’s offensive may “jeopardize” gains made against ISIS in the war in Syria.

On Friday morning, plumes of black smoke billowed from the Syrian border town of Tel Abyad as Turkey continued bombarding the area.


Plumes of black smoke billow from the Syrian border town of Tel Abyad as Turkey continues to bombard the area. (Reuters TV)

The Turkish Ministry statement that reported the death of a soldier also said three soldiers were wounded in the action, but didn’t provide details. Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said a total of 342 Syrian Kurdish militia members were killed in the incursion so far. Those figures could not be independently verified.

Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish fighters as terrorists linked to a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey, and says the offensive is necessary for national security.

In Syria, residents fled with their belongings loaded into cars, pickup trucks and motorcycle rickshaws, while others escaped on foot. The United Nations refugee agency said tens of thousands were on the move, and aid agencies warned that nearly a half-million people near the border were at risk — in scenes similar to those from a few years ago, when civilians fled the ISIS militants.

Turkish officials said the Kurdish militia has fired dozens of mortars into Turkish border towns the past two days, including Akcakale, killing at least six civilians, including a nine-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.

Mourners in Akcakale carried the coffin Friday of the slain baby boy, Mohammed Omar Saar, as many shouted, “Damn the PKK,” in reference to the Kurdish insurgent group in Turkey that Ankara says is linked to Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Sanctions ‘on the table,’ French official says

The Turkish Defence Ministry said the offensive was progressing “successfully as planned.” A Kurdish-led group and Syrian activists said that despite the bombardment, Turkish troops had not made much progress on several fronts they had opened. But their claims could not be independently verified.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has said the military intends to move 30 kilometres into northern Syria and that its operation will last until all “terrorists are neutralized.”

Cavusoglu, speaking at a joint news conference with Stoltenberg on Friday in Istanbul, said Turkey expected solidarity from its allies. He added that “it is not enough to say you understand Turkey’s legitimate concerns, we want to see this solidarity in a clear way.”

Meanwhile, a French official said Friday that sanctions against Turkey will be “on the table” at next week’s European Union summit.

Amelie de Montchalin, the French secretary for European affairs, told France Inter radio that Europe rejected any idea that it was powerless to respond to what she described as a shocking situation against civilians and Europe’s Kurdish allies against ISIS.


European diplomats in Brussels have responded cautiously to the idea of sanctions on Ankara though the invasion — which began Wednesday and was dubbed by Turkey “Operation Peace Spring” — has met with unanimous criticism.

The Turkish assault aims to create a corridor of control along the length of Turkey’s border — a so-called “safe zone” — clearing out the Syrian 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 two million Syrian refugees, mainly Arabs, in the zone.

As the incursion drew widespread criticism, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan 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.

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