Iran offers to mediate between Syrian Kurds, Turkey
Turkey’s military said it captured a key Syrian border town under heavy bombardment Saturday as its attacks against Kurdish militia pressed into its fourth day, with little sign of relenting despite mounting international condemnation.
Turkish troops entered central Ras al-Ayn, according to Turkey’s Defense Ministry and a war monitor group, marking the most significant gain since the invasion began Wednesday. The ministry tweeted: “Ras al-Ayn’s residential center has been taken under control through the successful operations in the east of Euphrates” river.
Turkey’s continued push into Syria comes days after US President Donald Trump pulled back American forces from the area and saying he wanted to stop getting involved with “endless wars.” Trump’s decision drew swift bipartisan criticism that he was endangering regional stability.
Syrian Kurdish forces appeared to be holding out in some areas of the town.
The Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces released two videos from inside Ras al-Ayn, showing militiamen saying that it is Saturday and they are still there.
The fighting was ongoing as the Kurdish militiamen sought to reverse the Turkish advance into Ras Al-Ayn, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Earlier in the day, Turkish troops moved to seize control of key highways in northeastern Syria, the Turkish military and the observatory said.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency said that Turkey-backed Syrian militants had taken control of the M-4 highway that connects the towns of Manbij and Qamishli.
The SDF said that Turkish troops and their Syrian allies reached the highway briefly before being pushed back again.
Turkish troops also cut the route linking the northeastern city of Hassakeh with Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and once commercial center, according to the observatory.
Since Wednesday, Turkish troops and Syrian militants backed by Ankara have been advancing under the cover of airstrikes and artillery shelling, reaching the Manbij-Qamishli road about 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of the Turkish border.
Turkey 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 SDF.
The UN estimated the number of displaced at 100,000 since Wednesday, saying that markets, schools and clinics also were closed. Aid agencies have warned of a humanitarian crisis, with nearly a half-million people at risk in northeastern Syria.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday Turkey will not stop until the Syrian Kurdish forces withdraw below a 32 kilometer (20 miles) deep line from the border.
The Turkish military aims to clear Syrian border towns of Kurdish militiamen’s presence, saying they are a national security threat.
A civilian wounded in a mortar strike from Syria the previous day in the Turkish border town of Suruc died, Anadolu news agency also reported Saturday, bringing the civilian death toll to 18 in Turkey. Turkey’s interior minister said hundreds of mortars, fired from Syria, have landed in Turkish border towns.
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 militants backed by Turkey in addition to 21 civilians on the Syrian side.
Turkey’s Defense Ministry said it “neutralized” 415 Syrian Kurdish fighters. 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.
France’s leader warned Trump in a phone call that Turkey’s military action in northern Syria could lead to a resurgence of the Daesh terror group.
President Emmanuel Macron “reiterated the need to make the Turkish offensive stop immediately,” his office said in a statement Saturday.
Iran offered on Saturday to engage Syrian Kurds, Syria’s government and Turkey in talks to establish security along the Turkish-Syrian border.
In making the mediation offer, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif referred to a 21-year-old security accord that required Damascus to stop harboring Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants waged an insurgency against the Turkish state. Turkey has said that pact was never implemented.
“The Adana Agreement between Turkey and Syria – still valid – can be the better path to achieving security,” Zarif said. “Iran can help bring together the Syrian Kurds, the Syrian government and Turkey so that the Syrian Army together with Turkey can guard the border,” he said in a tweet which carried part of an interview he did with Turkish public broadcaster TRT World.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday the 1998 accord could only be implemented if there was a political settlement to Syria’s eight-year-old war. He also said implementing the Adana pact would require the Syrian government to be in control of northeastern Syria – which it is not.
Iran, a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has regularly urged Turkey to respect Syria’s territorial integrity and avoid military action in northeastern Syria.
Damascus has said it is committed to the Adana accord.
AP and Reuters contributed to this story.