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Syria moves troops toward Turkish offensive

October 14, 2019

The Syrian military has mobilized soldiers toward the north of the country to face the Turkish incursion. France is taking measures to ensure the safety of its military and civilian personnel in the war-torn region.

Soldiers with the Syrian Army pose on a tank ARCHIV
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Str

Syrian military units have begun moving north to confront a Turkish offensive on Syrian territory, the official SANA news agency reported.

Troops entered the strategically important town of Tal Tamr on Monday morning, the agency said.

At the same time, a senior Kurdish politician said the mostly-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were holding talks at a Russian air base in Syria.

Read more: Germany caught between Turks and Kurds in Syria

Ahmed Suleiman, a senior member of the Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party in Syria, which is not part of the SDF, said the talks were being held at the Hmeimim air base in Latakia.

While the SDF responded "no comment" to Suleiman's statement, SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said his group would look all "all options that could spare our people ethnic cleansing," in light of Turkey's operation, dubbed Peace Spring.

According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a deal has been reached through which Syrian government forces will protect the Kurdish-held towns of Kobani and Manbij.

Germany urges Turkey to stop Syria offensive

France reacts to instability

US troops had been deployed in both towns since they were cleared of "Islamic State" (IS) militants in 2015. However, last week US President Donald Trump made the surprise announcement that he was pulling the US military out of Kurdish Syria, leaving a key US ally in the fight against IS vulnerable to the Turkish army.

France, which has been one of the main allies in the US-led coalition fighting IS in the Middle East, announced early Monday it was implementing procedures to ensure the safety of its military and civilian personnel in the region.

The French presidency released a statement after an emergency cabinet meeting. "Measures will be taken in the coming hours to ensure the safety of French military and civilian personnel present in the zone as part of the international coalition fighting 'Islamic State' and humanitarian action," it said.

Turkey takes control of border towns

Turkey, which has been fighting an off-and-on insurgency from armed Kurdish groups in its own country, says the offensive into Syria is to protect itself from "terrorists," a word it uses to describe the Kurdish People's Protection Units, which makes up most of what is left of the SDF.

The SOHR on Sunday reported that at least nine people, including five civilians, were killed in Turkish airstrikes on Sunday. The strikes hit a convoy carrying anti-Turkish protesters, fleeing residents and journalists. The convoy was hit as it approached the town of Ras al-Ayn, a Syrian border town that is now under Turkish control.

Turkish forces also advanced into the center of another border town, Tal Abyad, and had gained "near full control of it" by Sunday evening, SOHR said.

Dozens of Kurdish fighters, several Turkish soldiers, and at least 10 civilians have been killed since Turkey began its operation earlier this week. Hundreds of IS supporters have been freed as the Kurds have had to focus on protecting their towns and cities. The UN estimates that more than 100,000 people have had to flee their homes.

jsi, es/cmk (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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