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Turkey seizes key highways, border town in northern Syria assault against Kurdish fighters

Turkey has said it will not withdraw from the campaign despite mounting criticism [Getty]

Date of publication: 12 October, 2019

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Turkish forces have reportedly seized control of the key border town of Ras al-Ayn, where fighting with Syrian Kurdish forces continues.
Turkey said on Saturday its military offensive has taken central Ras al-Ayn, a key border town in northeastern Syria, as well as several key highways in its cross-border operation against Syrian Kurdish fighters.

"Ras al-Ayn's residential centre has been taken under control through the successful operations in the east of the Euphrates (River)," the Turkish defense ministry tweeted.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, confirmed that Turkish troops have entered the town, adding that fighting is still ongoing.

Turkey-backed Syrian opposition forces, meanwhile, have taken control of the M4 highway that connects the towns of Manbij and Qamishli, according to Anadolu Agency.

Turkish troops also cut the route linking the northeastern city of Hassakeh with Aleppo, Syria's largest city and once commercial centre, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Growing casualties

Since Wednesday, Turkish troops and their Syrian opposition allies have been advancing under the cover of airstrikes and artillery shelling, reaching the Manbij-Qamishli road about 30 kilometres (19 miles) south of the Turkish border.

The UN estimates the number of displaced at 100,000 since Wednesday, saying that markets, schools and clinics are also closed. Aid agencies have warned of a humanitarian crisis, with nearly a half-million people at risk in northeastern Syria.

A civilian wounded in a mortar strike from Syria the previous day in the Turkish border town of Suruc died, Anadolu also reported on Saturday, bringing the civilian death toll to 18 in Turkey.

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The Observatory that keeps track of Syria's civil war said 74 Kurdish-led SDF fighters have been killed since Wednesday as well as 49 Syrian opposition fighters backed by Turkey, in addition to 21 civilians on the Syrian side.

Turkey's defence ministry said it "neutralised" 415 Syrian Kurdish fighters though the number could not be independently verified. Four Turkish soldiers have been killed since the beginning of the offensive, including two who were killed in Syria's northwest.

Mounting criticism

France's leader warned Trump in a phone call that Turkey's military action in northern Syria could lead to a resurgence of Islamic State activity.

President Emmanuel Macron "reiterated the need to make the Turkish offensive stop immediately," his office said in a statement on Saturday.

Read more: Islamic State group strikes Kurds amid intense Turkish offensive in Syria

On Friday, the Pentagon blasted Turkey for its three-day old assault, warning of "serious consequences" for its actions. The Trump administration also threatened sanctions on key Turkish officials over the matter.

The Netherlands and Norway, both NATO allies of Turkey, have suspended arms sales to Turkey over its latest offensive.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, however, has insisted the operation won't stop until the Syrian Kurdish forces withdraw below a 32 kilometre (20 miles) deep line from the border.

Ankara has said it aims to push back the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, which it considers terrorists for its links to a decades-long Kurdish insurgency within its own borders. The YPG is a main component of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

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