Erdogan says Turkey 'won't stop' Syria offensive despite global outcry

Erdogan says Turkey 'won't stop' Syria offensive despite global outcry
Erdogan said his country 'will not take a step back' from its offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces despite widespread international condemnation.
4 min read
12 October, 2019
Erdogan vowed that the assault 'will not stop'. [Getty]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to press an assault against Kurdish forces in Syria, dismissing "threats" from other countries while the US warned Ankara of fresh sanctions.

President Donald Trump, whose order to pull back US troops from the border this week effectively triggered the intervention, said Washington would now seek to broker a truce.

US Defence Secretary Mark Esper "strongly encouraged" Turkey to halt its offensive as a prelude to such negotiations, warning of "serious consequences" if it did not halt the assault.

But Erdogan swiftly responded by vowing that the assault "will not stop". 

"Now there are threats coming from left and right, telling us to stop this," he said. "We will not step back."

His pledge to carry on with the push, which the UN says has displaced more than 100,000, came as US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Trump was planning to activate "very powerful" sanctions on Ankara.

Read more: Trump threatens Turkey with 'significant sanctions' over Syria offensive

"We hope we don't have to use them but we can shut down the Turkish economy if we need to," he said.

The third such Turkish operation since the start of the war in Syria has been met with fierce international condemnation over what many saw as the blatant betrayal of a faithful ally.

The Kurdish forces targeted by Turkey were the US-led coalition's main ground partner in years of battle against the Islamic State group and its now-defunct "caliphate".

In Al-Hol, a camp holding relatives of IS suspects which lies outside the area targeted by Turkey, women started riots Friday that Kurdish forces swiftly put down.

The risk that thousands of the jihadists they still hold could break free on the back of the Turkish assault could yet spur the international community into action.

Read more: Netherlands becomes second NATO ally to suspend arms sales to Turkey over Syria offensive

But as the offensive went into its third day, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces were fending for themselves, trying to repulse multiple ground attacks along a roughly 120 kilometre (75 mile) long segment of the border.

"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.

The Britain-based war monitor said the Turkish forces and their Syrian proxies - mostly Sunni Arab ex-rebels - were launching airstrikes, heavy artillery and rocket fire.


The monitor said four civilians were killed in Tal Abyad when an air strike hit the car in which they were fleeing the fighting, while another three were shot dead by snipers around the border town.

That brings the civilian death toll to 17 on the Syrian side, while 17 have also been killed in Turkey.

According to the Observatory, 54 SDF fighters have also been killed while Turkey has reported the deaths of four soldiers.

Outgunned Kurdish forces were putting up stiff resistance but experts predict they will not hold out very long without outside assistance.

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.

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 those fleeing were heading east towards the city of Hasakeh, which has not been targeted by Turkey.

Erdogan wants to create a buffer zone 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 30 kilometres 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.

Turkey's deadly assault against Kurdish positions in northeastern Syria has forced around 100,000 people to flee their homes, the United Nations said Friday.

Agencies contributed to this report. 

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