Shortly after the Turkish operation inside Syria had started, local residents cheer and applaud as a convoy of Turkish forces vehicles is driven through the town of Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, at the border between Turkey and Syria, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. Turkey launched a military operation Wednesday against Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria after U.S. forces pulled back from the area, with a series of airstrikes hitting a town on Syria's northern border. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Turkey Defiant on Syria Offensive as US Demands Ceasefire By Luana Sarmini-Buonaccorsi & Nazeer al-Khatib
Turkey rebuffed international pressure to curb its deadly offensive against Kurdish forces in Syria on Wednesday as US President Donald Trump dispatched his deputy Mike Pence to Ankara to demand a ceasefire.
But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed Turkey's operation -- which has been facilitated by the withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria -- would continue.
An another front, Kurdish forces struck a desperate deal with Damascus and stepped aside to allow Syrian regime troops and allied Russian soldiers enter the border town of Kobane on Wednesday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Kobane is a highly symbolic town for Syria's Kurds, whose forces had in 2015 wrested the town from Islamic State (IS) group control in an epic battle backed by the US-led coalition.
Days after US troops abruptly began withdrawing, clashes continued across the region on Thursday, with Kurdish fighters in the border town of Ras al-Ain burning tyres in a bid to blind Ankara's warplanes and digging in against a ground offensive by Turkish-backed Syrian rebels.
The Turkish operation, now in its second week, has triggered a flurry of diplomacy among major powers.
Trump sent Pence along with his top diplomat Mike Pompeo to Turkey amid the greatest crisis in relations for decades between the NATO allies, with talks due in Ankara early Thursday.
Facing a barrage of criticism in Washington for abandoning the Kurds, Trump has slapped sanctions on three Turkish ministers and raised tariffs on its steel industry.
Pence's office said the US would pursue "punishing economic sanctions" unless there was "an immediate ceasefire".
But Erdogan told parliament that the only way to solve Syria's problems was for the Kurdish forces to "lay down their arms... destroy all their traps and get out of the safe zone that we have designated."
- Trump says Kurds 'protected' -Trump again dismissed the idea that pulling out 1,000 troops -- practically the entire US contingent in the region -- had been a betrayal of Kurdish militants who bore the brunt of the fight against IS in recent years.
"The Kurds are very well protected," Trump told reporters at the White House. "By the way, they are not angels."
Trump also said he believed the Kurdish PKK are "more dangerous of a terrorist threat" than IS, echoing Erdogan's rhetoric.
Ankara says Syria's main Kurdish force, the People's Protection Units (YPG), is a "terrorist" offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a bloody insurgency inside Turkey since 1984.
Moscow has stepped into the void left by the US withdrawal, deploying patrols to prevent clashes between Syrian and Turkish forces.
The Kremlin said it would host Erdogan for a meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in the coming days, to ensure the operation does not turn into all-out war between Turkey and Syria.
The Turkish government can count on widespread support for its operation at home, where a decades-long bloody insurgency by Kurdish militants have killed tens of thousands of people.
But Western powers fear it will endanger the battle against IS. Thousands of IS prisoners are held in Kurdish-run camps in the region.
Europe has taken an increasingly tough line with Turkey and several countries, including Britain, France and Germany, have imposed arms embargoes on Turkey over the operation.
- Jihadist fears -The UN Security Council warned in a unanimously adopted statement of a risk of "dispersion" of jihadist prisoners, but stopped short of calling for an end to Turkey's offensive.
The head of Belgium's national anti-terrorist agency on Wednesday said two Belgian jihadists have escaped from detention in recent days.
Since launching their assault on October 9, Turkey and its Syrian rebel proxies have secured more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) of border, but Ras al-Ain has held out.
Erdogan wants to create a buffer zone stretching 30 kilometres from the border into Syrian territory.
He wants to destroy Kurdish hopes of an autonomous enclave that could serve as a launching pad for attacks in Turkey, and to resettle some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees Ankara is hosting.
Erdogan said that once the safe zone was established, "stretching from Manbij to the Iraqi border", then the operation would have "ended on its own".
The offensive has left dozens of civilians dead, mostly on the Kurdish side, and displaced at least 160,000 people.
Hundreds of Syrian Kurds entered neighbouring Iraqi's Kurdish autonomous region Wednesday, mostly women and children.
Trump Says Pompeo, Pence to Head to Turkey on Wednesday US Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel Wednesday to Ankara to press Turkey to halt its offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters, President Donald Trump said Tuesday.
"They are leaving tomorrow," Trump told reporters at the White House, a day after Pence announced the trip, without giving a timetable.
"We are asking for a ceasefire... We put the strongest sanctions that you can imagine."
Pence's office released a separate statement adding that he would "voice the United States' commitment to reach an immediate ceasefire and the conditions for a negotiated settlement."
Pence is due to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday, the statement added, to reiterate Trump's commitment to "punishing economic sanctions" on Turkey until a resolution is reached.
The president's abrupt decision this month to withdraw US forces from northeast Syria left the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) at the mercy of Turkish troops and their Syrian proxies.
The Kurds say hundreds of imprisoned relatives of militants from the Islamic State group -- also known as ISIS -- have escaped since Turkey launched its assault last week, although Trump suggested the SDF may have deliberately released them to gain leverage.
"The ongoing violence in the region, severely undermines the (Defeat ISIS) campaign, endangers civilians and religious minorities, and threatens the security of the entire region," the vice president's office said.
"The administration is resolved to maintain security in the region, the safety of civilians, and the continued detention of ISIS fighters."
France, Germany Halt Arms Exports to Turkey France and Germany on Saturday suspended arms exports to Turkey over its offensive into Syria against Kurdish fighters, as protesters denounced Ankara at rallies in several European cities.
Turkish soldiers on Wednesday launched a cross-border assault against Kurdish fighters Turkey sees as terrorists in defiance of international criticism and threats of sanctions.
In a joint statement from the defence and foreign ministries, France said it had suspended all planned exports of "war materials" to Turkey that could be used in their offensive into Syria.
The Paris statement came hours after Germany, one of Turkey's main arms suppliers, also said it had suspended exports.
A number of countries have condemned Turkey's offensive, and Finland, Norway and The Netherlands have already announced that they are stopping arms exports to the country.
A meeting in Luxembourg Monday of the European Union's foreign affairs committee will decide on a coordinated European approach to the issue, French statement said.
It noted France's "firm condemnation of the unilateral offensive engaged by Turkey in the northeast of Syria".
Both the French and German statements Saturday warned that the offensive could have serious humanitarian consequences.
Germany will not issue any new permits for any military equipment that could be used in Syria by Turkey, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was quoted as saying in the Sunday edition of Bild newspaper.
Responding to Germany's announcement, Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Germany's Deutsche Welle radio that it was "a question of national security, a question of survival".
Any arms embargo would only strengthen their resolve, he added.
"Even if our allies support the terrorist organisation, even if we are alone, even if an embargo is imposed, whatever they do, our struggle is directed against the terrorist organisation," he said, referring to the Kurdish Peoples' Protection Units (YPG).
The YPG has been the backbone of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces who were the main partner on the ground in the US-led campaign against the Islamic State group.
Ankara considers the YPG a "terrorist" offshoot of Kurdish rebels who have been fighting an insurgency against the Turkish state for three decades.
Thousands of people marched in several European countries Saturday to protest the Turkish assault and condemn US President Donald Trump for having abandoned the Kurds as a key ally.
The SDF lost 11,000 fighters in the protracted US-led campaign against IS before finally overrunning the jihadists' self-proclaimed "caliphate" in March.
US Troops in Syria Came Under Fire From Turkish Incursion US troops near the northern Syrian border came under artillery fire from Turkish positions on Friday, a Pentagon spokesman said, warning that the US was prepared to meet aggression with "immediate defensive action."
The US military confirmed an explosion around 9.00pm (1800 GMT) within a few hundred meters of its post near the town of Kobani, in an area "known by the Turks to have US forces present."
"All US troops are accounted for with no injuries. US forces have not withdrawn from Kobani," Navy captain Brook DeWalt said in a statement.
US President Donald Trump has faced a firestorm of criticism for appearing to greenlight Turkey's offensive into northeastern Syria, which began after Trump ordered US troops to pull back from the border.
Turkey is targeting the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a key US ally in the five-year battle to crush the Islamic State group. The SDF lost 11,000 fighters in the US-led campaign.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said earlier Friday Trump had authorized -- but not yet activated -- "very significant new sanctions" to dissuade Turkey from further offensive military action.
"The United States remains opposed to the Turkish military move into Syria and especially objects to Turkish operations outside the security mechanism zone and in areas where the Turks know US forces are present," DeWalt added.
"The US demands that Turkey avoid actions that could result in immediate defensive action."
US Senators Propose Tough Sanctions on Turkey Unless it Exits Syria A bipartisan group of US senators said Wednesday they have agreed on far-reaching sanctions to be slapped on NATO ally Turkey if its forces do not withdraw from neighboring Syria.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he and Democrat Chris Van Hollen are introducing legislation that would freeze all US assets of Turkey's political leadership -- including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his vice president and the defense minister.
It would also impose sanctions on entities that do business with Turkey's military, or with oil and gas companies that service its armed forces.
Graham and several other US lawmakers are furious over President Donald Trump's sudden military withdrawal from positions in northern Syria, blasting the move as a betrayal of Kurdish forces who for years have helped fight Islamic militants, and as an effective green light for Turkey to launch its long-planned offensive.
"While the Administration refuses to act against Turkey, I expect strong bipartisan support" for the measure, Graham said on Twitter.
Sanctions would be levied immediately upon enactment of the bill, which requires a presidential signature.
It would remain in effect unless the administration certifies to Congress that Turkey is not operating alone and has withdrawn its forces from areas occupied during operations that began Wednesday.
"These sanctions will have immediate, far-reaching consequences for Erdogan and his military," Van Hollen said on Twitter.
With Congress currently in recess, it is unlikely that any action on the measure would be taken before next week. The House and Senate are back in session on Tuesday.
Trump last year slapped tariffs on Turkey that threw the country's currency, the lira, into a tailspin as the two sides were at loggerheads over the detention in Turkey of American pastor Andrew Brunson.