Detained members of Islamic State have managed to escape from a Kurdish-run prison in northeastern Syria today after Turkish shelling hit the area following the removal of US forces.
It comes as one hundred thousand terrified civilians fled the Turkish incursion into Syria as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s troops continue to advance – with Ankara claiming it has killed 342 Kurdish fighters.
‘Five terrorists escaped from Navkur after shelling struck near the prison,’ said an official from the Syrian Democratic Forces, the de facto army of the autonomous Kurdish region.
A prison guard at Navkur, which is located in the town of Qamishli, said before the reported breakout that the facility housed mostly foreign jihadists.
Turkey and its Syrian proxies on Wednesday launched a deadly cross-border military offensive against areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces.
The attack has resulted in artillery fire striking near a number of critical facilities, including some of the prisons where thousands of IS suspects are being held.
Without the support of US troops, who pulled back from the border earlier this week, Kurdish fighters have redeployed from other areas in a bid to hold off Turkish-backed forces.
Another Kurdish official said the Jerkin facility, another nearby prison, had also come under regular Turkish fear, increasing the chances of a breakout there too.
Turkey backed fighters of the Syrian National Army, a rebel Syrian militia which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has allied with in his fight against the Kurds, carry light machine guns and bandoliers slung over their shoulders as they rally at the border today
Turkish-backed Syrian forces cross the border into the north of their homeland today as smoke rises in the horizon from one of the shelled border towns
Syrian fighters loyal to Turkey pass through a gap in the border wall on Friday as they prepare to take on Kurdish militias
An armoured car rounds the border wall as a Turkish-backed soldiers of the Syrian National Army prepare to take the fight to the Kurds on Friday
An armoured car heads into battle as it supports ground troops moving over the border into northern Syria today
A Pro-Turkish Syrian fighter crosses the border backed by his comrades, wielding an AK-57 and a grenade launcher, as he readies for battle
Syrian forces backed by Erdogan cross the frontier today, the third day of the Turkish offensive against Kurd militias in northern Syria
Pro-Turkish Syrian fighters march on the Turkish side of the border wall as they prepare to battle Kurdish militia over the other side
Clouds of smoke rise from a settlement in northern Syria on Thursday as seen from across the border in Ceylanpinar, in Sanliurfa, Turkey
President Donald Trump, who pulled his Kurd-backing forces out of Syria earlier this week, tweeted last night after facing backlash from within his own ranks
Syrian rebels stand on top of an armoured vehicle driving towards the border to cross into Syria, in Ceylanpinar on Friday morning
Members of the Syrian National Army, backed by Turkey, smoke morning cigarettes atop an armoured vehicle on Friday as they head towards the front from the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar
Turkey says it intends to create a ‘safe zone’ over an area about 30 miles deep and 75 miles wide to push Kurdish militia away from its border and eventually allow the repatriation of up to two million Syrian refugees. The area is rich in fertile lands and encompasses oil fields in the far northeast
The prospect of mass breakouts is causing deep concern among many foreign powers, who fear the return on their soil of IS fighters and the resurgence of the jihadist group in the region.
According to the Kurdish administration, some 12,000 men are held in seven detention centres across Kurdish-controlled areas.
Among them are Syrians and Iraqis, as well as 2,500 to 3,000 suspected IS fighters from 54 other countries.
Air strikes, artillery bombardments and small arms fire raged throughout border settlements along the 75-mile front for a third day, with Foreign Minister Hulusi Akar today announcing Turkey’s forces had ‘neutralised’ hundreds of ‘terrorists.’
‘Hey EU, wake up. I say it again: if you try to frame our operation there as an invasion, our task is simple: we will open the doors and send 3.6 million migrants to you,’ Erdogan said in a speech to parliament in Ankara on Thursday
The United Nations estimated 100,000 people had fled, piling trucks and cars high with their possessions as shells decimated their hometowns, in a grim echo of how they sought refuge from marauding ISIS fanatics only a few years before.
France said EU sanctions ‘were on the table’ today, amid widespread international condemnation for the invasion, with Emmanuel Macron warning Turkey risked ‘helping Daesh (ISIS) rebuild a caliphate.’
President Donald Trump, who pulled his Kurd-backing forces out of Syria earlier this week, declared last night the US was faced with three options: ‘Send in thousands of troops and win Militarily, hit Turkey very hard Financially and with Sanctions, or mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds!’
Trump’s tweet follows backlash from within his own Republican ranks over the perceived betrayal of the Kurds, who were pivotal in defeating ISIS in Syria earlier this year.
Furthermore, the Kurds have been guarding some 10,000 ISIS prisoners and Russian President Vladimir Putin joined British and US politicians today in expressing fears that they might escape.
‘I’m not sure whether the Turkish army will be able to take this under control – and how soon,’ Putin said in televised remarks. ‘This is a real threat to us.’
Kurdish forces announced camps packed with 20,000 displaced people, including the wives and children of ISIS fighters, were to be evacuated south after they were hit by Turkish shelling.
Meanwhile, at the Al-Hawl camp further south, notorious for housing British ISIS bride Shamima Begum, rioting and escape attempts were reported as news of Erdogan’s offensive reached the facility.
Doctors Without Borders said it was forced to shut down a hospital, which served more than 200,000 people, because of the spreading violence.
Despite the global outrage, Erdogan yesterday threatened Europe he would ‘open the doors’ for 3.6million refugees to flood into the continent if his incursion was defined as an occupation.
European Council President Donald Tusk responded to the threat today, warning Erdogan the EU would never bow to such a threat.
‘Turkey must understand that our main concern is that their actions may lead to another humanitarian catastrophe,’ Tusk said in Nicosia. ‘And we will never accept that refugees are weaponised and used to blackmail us. President Erdogan’s threats of yesterday are totally out of place.’
Three civilians are killed by a car bomb in Kurdish stronghold as its forces hold off the Turkish incursion
Three civilians were killed Friday when an explosives-laden vehicle detonated in a busy neighbourhood of Qamishli, one of the main Kurdish towns in northeastern Syria, officials said.
The attack, which wounded nine others, came as Kurdish forces pushed to hold off a massive cross-border assault by Turkey and its proxies.
‘A car bomb targeted a restaurant at a time when civilians, including journalists who came to cover the offensive, were inside,’ the Kurdish internal security services known as Asayish said in a statement.
People gather at the site of an explosion in the northeastern Syrian Kurdish city of Qamishli on Friday, Kurdish authorities said it killed at least three civilians and wounded nine more
A car bomb went off outside a restaurant in the Syrian Kurdish-controlled city of Qamishli on Friday, an official in the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said
A video distributed by the Syrian Democratic Forces – the autonomous Kurds’ de facto army – shows firemen trying to put out flames at the site of the blast, where at least five completely destroyed vehicles could be seen.
Qamishli has been hit by several car bomb attacks in recent months, usually claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group.
IS has not controlled fixed positions in the area since an SDF-led operation eliminated the last bastion of the jihadist ‘caliphate’ earlier this year.
But it has conducted regular deadly operations in remote areas with bomb attacks carried out by sleeper cells.
The Syrian state broadcaster al-Ikhbariya, quoting its correspondent, said the blast had caused deaths and injuries
Analysts and officials have voiced fears that the White House’s plans to pull American troops out of northeastern Syria would create a vacuum that could spark an IS resurgence.
A Kurdish official blamed the latest bomb attack on IS but no statement from the jihadist group claiming responsibility had yet been published.
Security responsibility in Qamishli is shared between the Kurds and regime forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
Reporting by AFP
People gather around the carnage after the car bomb exploded in Qamishli on Friday, a key Kurdish stronghold in the region
Fatina Hadbe (second from right), mother of Muhammed Omar, a nine-month-old baby from Syria, mourns over the flag-draped coffin of her son at a funeral ceremony in Akcakale, Turkey on Friday. Mortar fire from Kurdish-led forces killed six people including the child
Posts by the Turkish Ministry of Defence in memory of the ‘martyr’ Ahmet Topcu (left), the first Turkish soldier killed, and Haci Bebek (right), who succumbed to injuries later on Friday he sustained yesterday
On Friday morning, Turkish jets and artillery struck around Syria’s Ras al Ain, one of two border towns that have been the focus of the offensive. Gunfire could also be heard inside the town, a Reuters journalist in Ceylanpinar said (pictured: a soldier watches on as armoured vehicles head to the front)
Turkey announced today its first soldier had been killed in the Syrian incursion, with another three injured as Ankara claimed it had killed 342 Kurdish fighters (pictured: Turkish Army’s armored vehicles are dispatched to reinforce border units from Turkey’s Sanliurfa province last night)
Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Tal Abyad, in a picture taken from the Turkish side of the border in Akcakale on Thursday on the second day of Turkey’s military operation against Kurdish forces
The United Nations said 70,000 people have been displaced so far in the towns of Ras al Ain (known as Sari Kani in Kurdish) and Tel Abyad, where the most intense fighting has been focused
A convoy of 20 armoured vehicles carrying Syrian rebels entered Syria from Ceylanpinar on Friday. Some of them made victory signs, shouted ‘Allahu akbar’ (God is greatest) and waved Syrian rebel flags as they advanced towards Ras al Ain
Civilians flee with their belongings amid Turkish bombardment on Syria’s northeastern town of Ras al-Ain in the Hasakeh province on Wednesday evening
Men, women and children pack their belongings into vehicles as they prepare to flee their homes at the town of Ras al Ain Wednesday night
A man and two boys perch on top of their belongings packed into the back of a truck as they flee their homes on the Syrian border while smoke billows across the horizon
Girls stand together as a man hold onto a baby in the town of Ras al Ain in northern Syria which was pounded by shelling on Wednesday
Turkish and allied forces faced stiff Kurdish resistance as they battled to seize key border towns, on the third day of a broad offensive that sparked a civilian exodus (pictured: pro-Kurdish Syrian fighters prepare for battle)
US Defence Secretary Mark Esper told Turkey to halt its advance, with the Pentagon warning it could have ‘serious’ and ‘irreparable’ consequences for Ankara.
Esper told his counterpart Akar that the military actions ‘place at risk’ the progress made to defeat ISIS.
On Thursday, Syria’s Foreign Minister Faisal Maqdad called the Kurdish-led forces traitors and said they had given Turkey an excuse to violate his country’s national sovereignty.
Maqdad rebuffed suggestions made by the Kurds earlier this week that talks could be re-opened with Damascus, saying these ‘armed groups had betrayed their country and committed crimes against it.
‘We won’t accept any dialogue or talk with those who had become hostages to foreign forces … There won’t be any foothold for the agents of Washington on Syrian territory.’
This afternoon an explosives-laden vehicle detonated and killed at least three civilians and wounded nine more in a busy neighbourhood of Qamishli, a stronghold of the Kurdish militia in northern Syria, SDF officials said.
Families of ISIS fighters ‘attempt to escape’ notorious Al-Hol prison camp where Shamima Begum is being held amid Turkish invasion of Syria
Families of ISIS fighters kept locked up at the notorious Al-Hol prison camp in Syria have started riots in an attempt to escape, their Kurdish guards have said.
Video taken at the camp – where British ISIS bride Shamima Begum is among the detainees – shows panic as guards go running towards a group of burqa-clad women, who then sprint in the opposite direction.
The camp is home to some 70,000 people – mainly ISIS wives and their children. Among them are 11,000 foreigners, including Briton Shamima Begum (pictured)
Al-Hol is the largest prison camp in Syria and holds some 70,000 people, largely wives and children of ISIS fighters. Some 11,000 of the prisoners are foreign-born.
British jihadi bride Shamima Begum – who fled east London to join ISIS in 2014 and has since begged to be allowed to come home – was once kept at the camp.
It was here that she gave birth to a son who has since died of pneumonia. It is thought she is still at the camp.
Further to the north, the Kurds have also warned that two camps and a prison holding ISIS fighters have come under direct attack from Turkish forces in what they described as a deliberate attempt to free the detainees.
Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said a camp sheltering more than 7,000 displaced people at Mabrouka, close to the Turkish border, is to be evacuated.
Talks are underway about moving a second camp for 13,000 people, including around 800 relatives of Islamic State fighters, at Ain Issa, further inland.
It comes a day after the al-Chirkin prison, in the town of Qamishli, was also struck by shelling.
Explosions had damaged Chirkin prison where jihadi militants from some 60 countries are being kept, Kurdish jailers said.
‘These attacks on prisons holding Daesh (ISIS) terrorists will lead to a catastrophe the consequences of which the world may not be able to handle later on,’ the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said in a statement.
Reporting by Chris Pleasance
The attack, which Kurdish officials said caused several casualties, came as Kurdish forces were trying to hold off a massive cross-border assault by Turkey and its proxies.
On Friday morning, Turkish jets and artillery struck around Syria’s Ras al Ain. Gunfire could also be heard inside the town, a Reuters journalist in Ceylanpinar said.
A convoy of 20 armoured vehicles of the Turkey-backed Syrian National Army, a rebel militia which Erdogan has allied with in his fight for a ‘safe zone,’ crossed the border earlier today, some making victory signs and shouting ‘Allahu akbar’ as they waved Syrian rebel flags on their advance to Ras al Ain.
Some 75 miles west, Turkish howitzers resumed shelling near the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, a witness said.
At least seven civilians were killed by Turkish airstrikes and sniper fire today, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported, some in strikes on Tel Abyad and others by small arms fire around the town.
A total of 17 civilians have been killed on the Syrian side since the start of the assault, according to the UK-based monitor.
Meanwhile, Turkey today reported two civilians were killed when a shell hit a house in the town of Suruc, adjacent to Kobane across the border in Syria which is under the control of the Kurdish YPG. The fatalities increased the death toll of civilians killed in mortar attacks on Turkish border towns to nine.
Turkey’s Defence Ministry said that in overnight operations the Turkish military and its Syrian rebel allies killed 49 Kurdish militants. It says it has killed 342 militants in total.
The ministry said one Turkish soldier was killed in a clash on Thursday during the offensive, which is targeting the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), led by the Kurdish YPG militia.
The SDF said Turkish air strikes and shelling had killed nine civilians. In apparent retaliation by Kurdish-led forces, six people including a 9-month-old baby were killed by mortar fire into Turkish towns, Turkish officials said.
The Kurds claim to have successfully repelled the Turkish army and their allies in the Syrian National Army.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has contradicted Ankara’s claims of 342 Kurds killed, saying 41 Kurdish fighters had died since the start of the conflict.
It added that six fighters from the Turkish-backed Syrian rebel group, the Syrian National Army, had been killed.
‘There is heavy fighting between the SDF and the Turks on different fronts, mostly from Tal Abyad to Ras al-Ain,’ the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
It said the Turkish forces and their Syrian proxies – mostly Sunni Arab former rebels – were deploying air strikes, heavy artillery and rocket fire.
‘The SDF are using tunnels, trenches and berms’ in their defence operations, the Observatory said.
Kurdish counter-attacks overnight led to the retaking of two of the 11 villages they had lost since the start of the Turkish-led assault on Wednesday.
The Observatory and a Kurdish military source said several Arab families in the border area had sided with Turkey, raising sleeper cells to attack from behind SDF lines.
An AFP correspondent in the Ras al-Ain area said new units of Syrian former rebels were being brought in to break Kurdish resistance.
Ras al-Ain, Tal Abyad and other border towns between them have been almost emptied of their population in a huge wave of displacement.
Most of the 70,000 people the United Nations confirmed had been displaced travelled east towards the city of Hasakeh, which has not been targeted by Turkey.
‘What does Erdogan want from us?,’ asked one woman, referring to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as she and her family settled in a school the local authorities had turned into an emergency shelter.
‘Is it all simply because we are Kurds?’
Pro-Turkish Syrian fighters gather along the Turkish side of the border as they prepare to roll into northern Syria in armoured trucks on Friday
Night vision footage shows the green flare of gunfire as the ‘hero’ commandos move through the rural Syrian border after the artillery and war planes decimated positions
A convoy of armoured vehicles drives towards the border to cross into Syria from Turkey on Friday morning
Explosions in Syrian border towns of Ras Al Ain and Tel Abyad are seen from Ceylanpinar, Turkey on Friday morning as Erdogan’s assault on the border continues
People look out from an apartment building which was damaged by a rocket fired from Syria, in Nusaybin, Turkey on Thursday
Terrified residents were seen fleeing on foot, by car and piling rickshaws high with their possessions as they left their homes – a grim echo of how they sought refuge from the Islamic State only a few years before (pictured: civilians pack into a truck as smoke billows in the background)
Turkish-backed Syrian fighters gather for a selfie on Friday morning as they prepare to cross into their homeland to fight the Kurds
Turkish Armed Forces’ howitzers deployed at the Syrian town of Tell Abyad, as part of Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring on Thursday
Turkish soldiers riding in a tank roll towards the Syrian border Wednesday evening as the first ground troops prepared to pour into Kurdish territory over the border
Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Tal Abyad after Turkish bombings, in a picture taken from the Turkish side of the border near Akcakale in the Sanliurfa province
A boy looks from a car as they prepare to leave after a mortar destroyed part of their house in Akcakale in Sanliurfa province Wednesday night
Erdogan wants to create a buffer between the border and territory controlled by Syrian Kurdish forces, who have links with Turkey’s own Kurdish rebels.
He also plans to use the strip, which he envisions will be about 20 miles deep and is mostly Arab, as an area in which to send back some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees who live on Turkish soil.
The area would be under Turkish control and run by Syrian proxies, a move that would make it hard for displaced Kurds to return and would durably reshape the area’s ethnic map.
NATO member Turkey says the operation is necessary for border security against the YPG militia, which it designates a terrorist group because of ties to militants who have waged a decades-old insurgency in southeast Turkey in which more than 40,000 people have been killed.
Ankara has also said it intends to create a ‘safe zone’ for the return of millions of refugees to Syria.
Kurdish authorities claimed on Thursday that shelling of the Chirkin prison, holding jihadist prisoners of more than 60 nationalities, in the city of Qamishli was shelled in a ‘clear attempt’ to help fighters escape.
‘These attacks on prisons holding Daesh (ISIS) terrorists will lead to a catastrophe the consequences of which the world may not be able to handle later on,’ the statement said.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called for an emergency meeting of the coalition of more than 30 countries created to fight Islamic State.
Who’s who in the conflict? Turkey views the 30million or so Kurds living inside its borders and in neighbouring Syria and Iraq as a potential threat to its unity
Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters enter the border town of Tel Abyad on Thursday morning as troops head south to claim Erdogan’s ‘safe zone’
Civilians carry their belongings over their head as they flee amid Turkish bombardment on Syria’s northeastern town of Ras al-Ain in the Hasakeh province along the Turkish border Wednesday night
Cars pack the roads as civilians flee their homes as Turkey’s artillery and war planes descended on the border on Wednesday
Boys who have clambered onto the back of a truck as they prepare to move south to safety from the Turkish bombardment
A truck loaded with passengers queues with other vehicles as they flee the town of Ras al Ain while smoke from the shelling billows across the horizon
Syrian Arab and Kurdish civilians arrive to Hassakeh city after fleeing following Turkish bombardment on Syria’s northeastern towns along the Turkish border on Thursday
Civilians arrive in Hassakeh after fleeing bombardments in trucks and cars laden with their belongings
Long lines of cars travel away from the ferocious bombardment of Ras al Ain on Wednesday afternoon
The United States has received a high-level commitment from Turkey on taking responsibility for Islamic State captives but had not yet had detailed discussions, the official said.
U.S. lawmakers have said Trump gave Erdogan the green light to go into Syria but the official disputed that.
‘We gave them a very clear red light, I’ve been involved in those red lights and I know the president did that on Sunday,’ the official said.
Trump has faced rare criticism from senior figures in his Republican Party who accuse him of deserting U.S. allies.
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican who usually backs Trump, has been one of the most outspoken critics of the U.S. troop withdrawal. He unveiled a framework for sanctions on Turkey with Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey would retaliate against any measure taken against it.
Kurdish families flee their home towns in Ras al-Ein on the back of a truck on Thursday after the Turkish offensive began
Syrian girl cries upon her arrival to Hassakeh city after fleeing the Turkish bombardment of northern Syria on Thursday
A military convoy of armoured vehicles of Turkey and its allies roll towards the border on Friday morning
Turkish armoured vehicles along the Turkish side of the border as they prepare to take part in an offensive against Kurdish-controlled areas in northeastern Syria today
Turkey’s defence ministry said on Thursday they had struck 181 targets east of the Euphrates River since the incursion started.
More than a dozen columns of thick smoke rose in and around the town of Tel Abyad, one of the offensive’s first main targets on Thursday. Turkish officials said the Kurdish militia has fired dozens of mortars into Turkish border towns the past two days, including Akcakale.
On Thursday morning Turkey-backed Syrian rebel fighters were cheered as they rolled towards the border in armoured vehicles, heading for battlefronts where Kurdish fighters have dug in.
The Kurdish-led SDF said Turkish warplanes had caused ‘huge panic’ when they attacked the Kurdish-held territory, and claimed the bombardments had killed and wounded civilians.
SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said on Twitter: ‘Turkish warplanes have started to carry out air strikes on civilian areas.’
Pictures and video footage from the ground appeared to show civilians desperately fleeing the area as clouds of smoke rose from the positions targeted by Turkish jets.
There were signs of terror in the streets of Ras al-Ayn- one of the Syrian towns under attack with residential areas close to the border.
Near the town of Qamishli, plumes of smoke rose from an area close to the border after activists reported explosions nearby.
Bali reported yesterday morning that the SDF had repelled Turkish forces ground attacks. ‘No advance as of now,’ he tweeted.
Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters enter Tel Abyad from Turkish gate towards Syria in Akcakale in Sanliurfa province on Thursday
Syrian opposition fighters backed by Turkey enter Tel Abyad towards Syria in Akcakale in Sanliurfa province on Thursday – Turkey has launched a broad assault on Kurdish-controlled areas in northeastern Syria, with intensive bombardment followed by a ground offensive made possible by the withdrawal of US troops
Syrian opposition fighters backed by Ankara move towards Syria’s northern border on Thursday, a high calibre machine gun mounted on the back of their truck
Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters enter the Syrian town of Tel Abyad on the Turkish border as the push south to claim their ‘safe zone’
Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters enter the Syrian town of Tel Abyad – the town is part of a divided city, bordering with Akçakale in Turkey
Residents of Tel Abyad wave to Turkish-backed Syrian troops moving south into Kurdish territory on Thursday
Residents near the Syrian border, in Akcakale, wave to troops and take pictures of the armoured vehicles pouring south across the border on Thursday
International reaction to the invasion
The European Union
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Wednesday: ‘I call on Turkey as well as the other actors to act with restraint and to stop operations already, as we are speaking, under way … I have to say if the Turkish plan involves the creation of a so-called safe zone, don’t expect the European Union to pay for any of it.’
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday Turkey had ‘legitimate security concerns’ and had informed NATO about its attack against Kurdish fighters in Syria.
‘I count on Turkey to act with restraint and ensure that any action it may take in northern Syria is proportionate and measured,’ he said after meeting Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. ‘It is important to avoid actions that may further destabilise the region, escalate tensions and cause more human suffering.’
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned Turkey’s actions and warned of an ‘ethnic cleansing’ against the Kurds. He said Israel is prepared to extend humanitarian assistance to the ‘gallant Kurdish people.’
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Turkey’s operation would lead to further destabilisation of the region and could strengthen Islamic State. He urged Turkey to end the operation.
France’s European affairs minister Amelie de Montchalin said France and Britain would call a U.N. Security Council meeting over the Turkish offensive. France, Germany and Britain are finalising a joint statement condemning the advance.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the operation risked destabilising the region and harming civilians.
Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod tweeted: ‘Deeply concerned about Turkish military operation in Syria. In my view, this is a regrettable and wrong decision, which can have serious consequences for civilians and the fight against ISIL (Islamic State).’
Russian President Vladimir Putin urged his Turkish counterpart President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to ‘think carefully’ before taking any action.
Erdogan for his part told Putin that the offensive ‘will contribute to Syria’s peace and stability and ease the path to a political solution’.
‘I call on Turkey not to follow the path it has chosen,’ Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok said.
‘No one can benefit from the potentially terrible humanitarian consequences. The operation can trigger new refugee flows and harm the fight against IS and stability in the region.’
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he had ‘serious concerns’ about Turkey’s military action.
He said: ‘This risks destabilising the region, exacerbating humanitarian suffering, and undermining the progress made against Daesh which should be our collective focus.’
Iran on Thursday called for an ‘immediate halt’ to the Turkish Syria offensive.
India’s foreign ministry issued a press release Thursday saying it is ‘deeply concerned at the unilateral military offensive by Turkey in north-east Syria.’
It cautioned that Turkey’s actions can undermine stability in the region and the fight against terrorism. Its action also has the potential for causing humanitarian and civilian distress.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Turkish troops tried to push ahead on several fronts under the cover of airstrikes and artillery shelling but made no tangible progress.
The Observatory said that since Turkey began its operation, seven civilians have been killed.
CNN Turk broadcast video showing a crane overnight removing a concrete block from the border wall and commandos moving in single-file alongside the barrier.
In the Turkish border town of Akcakale, around 30 vehicles carrying Syrian rebels, many pick-up trucks mounted with anti-aircraft machines drove along the main road along the Turkish side of the border from Syria’s Tel Abyad.
They were accompanied by some 10 Turkish military armoured vehicles. It was not clear where they were heading. Earlier, a witness in Akcakale said volleys of rockets were fired from there across the border.
Turkish forces shelled targets near Ral al Ain on Thursday morning, and SDF fighters responded, a witness said.
The Turkish border town of Akcakale was quiet for much of the morning after sporadic gunfire and the sound of tank movement were heard in the early hours, Reuters journalists said. Explosions just over the border had rocked the town of Tel Abyad earlier in the night, they said.
Turkey regards the Kurdish militia as a terrorist group because of its links to Kurdish PKK militants waging a decades-old insurgency in southeast Turkey.
Troops have entered Syria at four points, two of them close to Tel Abyad and two close to Ras al Ain further east, according to Turkish media reports. Air strikes killed at least five civilians and three SDF fighters, while dozens of civilians were wounded, the SDF said. Thousands of people fled Ras al Ain towards Hasaka province, held by the SDF.
SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said the group’s fighters had repelled a ground attack by Turkish troops in Tel Abyad.
Tanks and troops had been massing on the border since Trump announced that American troops would step aside.
Hours after the assault was launched, President Trump tweeted that US troops should ‘never have been’ in the Middle East in the first place.
In Damascus, Syria’s deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad warned that the Assad government ‘will defend all Syrian territory and will not accept any occupation of any land or iota of the Syrian soil’.
Earlier, Turkish television reports said Turkish jets had bombed Syrian Kurdish positions across the border from Turkey.
In the face of the onslaught, Kurdish authorities announced a general mobilisation, urging all civilians to ‘head to the border with Turkey… to resist during this delicate historical moment’.
Kurdish leaders said they would hold their erstwhile US ally and the whole international community responsible for any ‘humanitarian catastrophe’.
In Ras al-Ain, Kurdish-led security forces set up checkpoints and stockpiled tyres to set alight to blur the vision of Turkish military pilots.
Ras al-Ain was one of the places from which US troops withdrew on Monday.
‘We will not leave this land,’ said Kaws Seem, a 32-year-old Ras al-Ain resident. ‘War has been chasing us for years, and everyday Erdogan threatens us with a new attack,’ he added.
It was expected that Ras al-Ain and Tal Abad would be the focus of the first assaults.
Kurdish forces have dug trenches and tunnels in both areas, covering streets with metal canopies to block the cameras of Turkish drones.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Wednesday he had ‘serious concerns’ about Turkey’s military action.
He said: ‘This risks destabilising the region, exacerbating humanitarian suffering, and undermining the progress made against Daesh which should be our collective focus.
Syrian National Army soldiers prepare to depart the Turkish border town of Akcakale and drive over the border into northern Syria
Turkish jet taxis on tarmac after returning to a military base in southeast Diyarbakir, southeastern Turkey on Thursday
Turkey-backed Syrian National Army fighters rally at their trucks as they prepare to cross the border and engage the Turkish militia
Smoke rises after Turkish artillery continue their barrages on the border area of Tell Abyad on Thursday morning
Soldiers of the Syrian National Army mount their machine-gun truck as they prepare to advance on the Kurdish militia Thursday
A photo from Syria’s Tell Abyad region shows a Turkey-backed Syrian National Army soldier going through a tunnel believed to have been used by the YPG or ISIS
Smoke rises from Tel Arkam village in the Ras al Ain countryside on Thursday as Turkey continues its offensive into the border territory
An armoured vehicle of the Syrian National Army kicks up dust as it heads south to reinforce foot soldiers
Turkish Armed Forces’ military vehicles moving, at Syrian border in Akcakale district of Turkey’s Sanliurfa province on Thursday
Smoke rises from the Syrian village of Tel Arkam on Thursday as fresh barrages rain down on the northern border Thursday
Members of Turkey-backed Syrian National Army wave as they are on the way to northern Syria for a military operation in Kurdish areas, near the Syrian border, in Akcakale
Syrian National Army members toll towards the border on Thursday as they join their comrades in the Turkish army as part of the operation
Smoke rises after howitzers of Turkish Armed Forces batter targets yesterday morning in Tell Abyad as part of Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring
Turkish soldiers stand guard near the Turkey Syrian border on Thursday as their comrades flood into the neighbouring country Thursday
‘Turkey has shown considerable generosity in hosting so many Syrian refugees.
‘But we will not support plans for returns until the conditions are in place for a voluntary and safe return home.’
Prior to the invasion Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, two of the four British ISIS soldiers known as the ‘Beatles’ were taken into US custody.
There were fears the men would escape from Syrian jail after a Turkish invasion.
They beheaded seven American, British and Japanese journalists and aid workers and a group of Syrian soldiers, boasting of the butchery in videos released to the world.
Turkish armoured vehicles escort members of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army as they enter Syria Thursday
Members of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army roll towards the northern border of their homeland, with a machine gun mounted on the back of their truck
Turkish armoured vehicles escort members of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army on Thursday as forces are mustered at the border
A military lorry carrying two tanks rolls towards the Syrian border in Hatay province, Turkey, on Thursday as the ground assault takes shape
Members of Syrian National Army and Turkish Armed Forces move from Akcakale district of Sanliurfa to enter the territory east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria on Thursday
Syrian National Army soldiers pray before heading into hostile territory on Thursday
Birds fly away as smoke rises from an explosion in northern Syria as Turkish bombs rained down on Thursday
Ground troops make their way into northern Syria on Thursday after their path was cleared by bombardments
Syrian National Army members gather around a tank Thursday as they make their way south to the Syria-Turkey border on Thursday
Women run to take cover from mortars fired from the Syrian side into Turkey on Thursday. At least two government buildings were hit by the mortars in Sanliurfa province’s border town of Akcakale
People in Akcakale Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, at the border with Syria, watch smoke billowing inside the war-ravaged country
Smoke rises from a building in Turkey Thursday after mortar fire in response to the invasion from the Syrian side
A Turkish warplane takes off at the Incirlik 10th Tanker Base Command in Saricam district, in Adana, as it heads to support ground troops on Thursday
Erdogan tweeted Wednesday that his armed forces along with the Syrian National Army had launched ‘Operation Peace Spring’ to ‘prevent the creation of a terror corridor’ along the Turkish border.
He added the aim to is to eliminate threats from the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia and the Islamic State militants, and enable the return of Syrian refugees in Turkey after the formation of a ‘safe zone’ in the area.
The Turkish president wrote on Twitter: ‘Our mission is to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area. We will preserve Syria’s territorial integrity and liberate local communities from terrorists.’
A Turkish official confirmed the military action after explosions rocked the town of Ras al Ain in northeast Syria, on the border with Turkey.
Earlier Wednesday Syria vowed to respond to a planned Turkish invasion of the northeast of the country, saying it condemned Ankara’s ‘hostile intentions’.
The Syrian foreign ministry said the ‘hostile actions’ of the Turkish government revealed its ‘expansionist ambitions,’ saying an attack on Syrian territory ‘could not be justified’ and pledged to ‘confront a Turkish assault’.
The United Nations Security Council will meet on Thursday to discuss Syria at the request of the five European members, Britain, France, Germany, Belgium and Poland.
In a letter to the 15-member Council seen by Reuters, Turkey said that its military operation would be ‘proportionate, measured and responsible.’
The 22-member Arab League said it will hold an emergency meeting on Saturday.
Timeline of US involvement in Syria since 2011
Pressure on Assad
On April 29, 2011, a month after the first protests in Syria that were met with brutal force by the regime, Washington imposes sanctions on several Syrian officials.
The measures extend to President Bashar al-Assad the following month.
On August 18, US president Barack Obama and Western allies for the first time explicitly call on Assad to stand down.
In October, the US ambassador leaves Syria for ‘security reasons’. Damascus recalls its ambassador from Washington.
Obama backs off ‘red line’
In August 2013, the Syrian regime is accused of carrying out a chemical attack near Damascus that killed more than 1,400 people, according to Washington.
Despite having vowed to act with force if Syria crossed the chemical weapons ‘red line’, Obama at the last minute pulls back from punitive strikes on regime infrastructure.
Instead, on September 14, he agrees to a deal with Moscow – Assad’s main backer – that is meant to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.
US targets IS
On September 23, 2014, the US and Arab allies launch air strikes in Syria against the Islamic State (IS) group, expanding a campaign underway in neighbouring Iraq.
The biggest contributor to the coalition, Washington deploys 2,000 soldiers, mostly special forces.
In October 2015, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-Syrian Arab alliance of some 50,000 fighters, is created with US backing.
Dominated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, it receives US training and aid in the form of arms, air support and intelligence.
The SDF later overruns IS in northeastern Syria, driving out the jihadists from their last patch of territory in the village of Baghouz in March 2019.
Trump orders strikes
On April 7, 2017, US forces fire a barrage of cruise missiles at Syria’s Shayrat airbase, believed to be the launch site of a chemical attack that killed 88 people in Idlib province.
It is the first direct US action against Assad’s government and President Donald Trump’s most significant military decision since taking office in January 2017.
On April 14, 2018, the US – with the support of France and Britain – launches new retaliatory strikes after an alleged regime chemical attack on the then rebel-held town of Douma, in which some 40 people were killed.
On December 19, 2018, Trump announces that all of the roughly 2,000 US troops in Syria will be withdrawn because IS had been ‘defeated’.
The surprise decision prompts Defense Secretary James Mattis to resign and is met with concern by France, Britain and Germany, but praise from Russia and Turkey.
On January 16, 2019, a suicide attack claimed by IS kills four US servicemen and 15 others at a restaurant in Syria’s northern city of Manbij.
It is the deadliest attack against US forces since they deployed.
On August 7, Turkish and US officials agree to jointly manage a buffer zone between the Turkish border and areas in Syria controlled by the YPG, which Istanbul considers a ‘terrorist’ threat.
US steps aside
But on October 6, Washington announces that US forces would withdraw from the border areas to make way for a ‘long-planned operation’ by Turkish forces.
The following day, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirms that Turkish action against Kurdish militants in Syria is imminent.
The United Nations says it is ‘preparing for the worst’ and the European Union warns that civilians could be harmed.