The Latest: Trump doubts public wants US involved in Syria
BEIRUT (AP) — The latest developments on the Turkish offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria (all times local):
As Turkey’s military incursion into Syria continues, President Donald Trump is telling reporters the U.S. has only two choices: Hit Ankara hard with financial sanctions or send in U.S. troops to stop the fighting between Turkish and Kurdish forces.
Trump says Turkey knows he does not support the invasion.
But he also says he doesn’t think the American people want to send troops there. He is telling reporters, “I hope we can mediate.”
Earlier Trump tweeted a third option: “Mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds!”
The president has been roundly criticized by Democrats and Republicans for moving U.S. troops back from northern Syria so they would not get harmed during the planned incursion against the Kurds, whom Turkey’s government see as terrorists.
A divided U.N. Security Council has failed to agree on a statement following a closed meeting on Turkey’s incursion into northeast Syria.
The five European council members who called Thursday’s meeting — there are 15 member countries — urged Turkey in a joint statement afterward “to cease the unilateral military action.” They say it threatens progress against the extremist Islamic State group by a global coalition.
The Europeans warned that “renewed armed hostilities in the northeast will further undermine the stability of the whole region, exacerbate civilian suffering and provoke further displacements.”
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, whose country is a key Syrian ally, told reporters that any council statement on Syria must address broader issues, including the presence of foreign forces in the country.
U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft told reporters that President Donald Trump “has made abundantly clear” that the United States “has not in any way” endorsed Turkey’s decision to mount a military incursion in northeast Syria.
Media activists and a war monitor say Kurdish forces have clashed with Turkey-backed Syrian fighters inside a Kurdish-dominated town along the Turkish-Syrian border after a three-pronged attack.
A member of the Kurdish forces confirmed the fighting Thursday, adding that the Turkey-backed fighters are attempting to advance on the town of Ras al-Ayn.
The town near the border is predominantly Kurdish and is one of the few main urban centers under the Kurdish-led administration. A native of the town said his family was able to escape earlier Thursday before the Turkey-backed assault.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said an attack on the highway south of Ras al-Ayn came before the Turkey-backed fighters advanced from the town’s east and west. North Press Agency, a media group operating in Kurdish-held areas, also reported the clashes on the western and eastern flanks of the town.
NATO’s secretary-general is urging alliance-member Turkey to show “restraint” in its military push into northern Syria, adding that the common enemy in the region is still the Islamic State group.
Jens Stoltenberg avoided any direct criticism of the Turkish incursion, repeating a previous call on Ankara to “ensure that (its) actions in northern Syria are measured and proportionate and avoid even more human suffering.”
Stoltenberg spoke of the need to “continue to stand together in our common fight against the common enemy,” the Islamic State group. While enormous progress has been made against the group, he said, “we must make sure that we preserve those gains.”
He spoke in Athens on Thursday after a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
Stoltenberg will meet Turkey’s leader in Istanbul on Friday.
Turkey’s Defense Ministry says 174 “terrorists” have been “neutralized” in its cross-border military offensive, referring to Syrian Kurdish fighters.
The ministry tweeted Thursday that the number includes 19 alleged fighters killed in an airstrike on a shelter used by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, in Ras al-Ayn.
The numbers could not be independently verified.
Turkey considers the YPG a terror organization linked to a Kurdish insurgency at home and has declared the military offensive, launched Wednesday, necessary for national security.
French President Emmanuel Macron “strongly” condemns the Turkish offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria.
In his first reaction after the beginning of the military operation, Macron, speaking at a news conference in Lyon, France, said “I call upon Turkey to put an end to it as soon as possible.”
He stressed the international community’s priority is to fight against the IS Group and terrorism.
He warned that Turkey is running “on its own” the risk of “helping Daesh rebuild a caliphate” and “a humanitarian risk for millions of people
A Turkish provincial governor’s office says two children and their mother have been killed by mortar fire from Syria into Turkey.
The governor’s office of Mardin province on the Turkey-Syria border said in a statement Thursday the girls were aged 12 and 15. It said 24 others were wounded.
The statement follows a separate announcement from neighboring Sanliurfa province, where a 9-month-old boy, an 11-year-old girl and an adult male were killed in mortar attacks. The Turkish Defense ministry tweeted that it hit targets in Syria in retaliation.
Mortar attacks from Kurdish-held northeastern Syria have increased significantly since Turkey launched a military offensive into the area Wednesday.
Turkey’s foreign minister says Turkish troops intend to move some 30 kilometers (19 miles) deep into northern Syria and that its operation will last until all “terrorists are neutralized,” a reference to Syrian Kurdish fighters.
Briefing a small group of journalists on Thursday, Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkish troops and Syrian opposition fighters would be strengthened with more security force officers, including police, if needed. He did not comment on how many troops had crossed the border or how many jets were involved in the offensive.
The minister reiterated that Turkey aimed to create a safe zone that would allow the “voluntary” and “safe” return of Syrian refugees or displaced people.
Asked to comment on statements from European leaders criticizing Turkey’s incursion and suggestions that the EU would not fund Turkey’s plans for a safe zone, Cavusoglu said: “In this case we’d better let them, EU countries, take those refugees.”
“The majority of them — if we allow them today — are ready to go to European destinations,” he said. “If the EU and European countries don’t want to work with Turkey then it will be their problem as well.”
The minister said Turkey would take control of Islamic State prisons situated within the intended safe zone, but not those that lie farther south.
Turkish officials say a 9-month-old baby and a Turkish civil servant have been killed after mortars were fired from Kurdish-held northern Syria into Turkish border towns.
The governor’s office of Sanliurfa province said in a statement Thursday the baby was of Syrian nationality. It said 46 people were wounded in the rocket and mortar attacks.
At least five Turkish border towns have been hit by dozens of mortars since Wednesday.
Turkey has pointed to past cross-border mortar attacks by Syrian Kurdish militants as a threat to its national security.
Bosnia says renewed fighting in Syria has delayed the deportation to the Balkan country of a group of its citizens who were captured while fighting for the Islamic State group.
Security Minister Dragan Mektic says the first group was due to arrive Thursday but that this has been postponed “because of the events of the past 24 hours and new circumstances in Syria.” He gave no other details.
Dozens of Bosnia’s Muslims have joined IS in Syria and Iraq during the war. Bosnian media say nine captives from Bosnia will be sent back to face legal proceedings.
Turkey launched an invasion of northeastern Syria on Wednesday after U.S. troops pulled back from the area, paving the way for Turkey’s assault on Syrian Kurdish forces.
A group of 14 international aid agencies are warning of an escalating humanitarian crisis in northeast Syria.
They say “civilians (are) at risk as violence escalates and humanitarian work is suspended.”
Thursday’s statement co-signed by the organizations — including Doctors of the World, Oxfam and the Norwegian Refugee Council — said an estimated 450,000 people live within 5 kilometers (3 miles) of the Syria’s border with Turkey “and are at risk if all sides do not exercise maximum restraint and prioritize the protection of civilians.”
It added there already are more than 90,000 internally displaced people in the region, and tens of thousands of fighters with families held in camps and detention centers.
The aid agencies also are urging parties to the conflict to respect International Humanitarian Law and refrain from using explosive weapons in populated areas.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is condemning the Turkish invasion of Kurdish areas in Syria and warning of an “ethnic cleansing” against them.
Netanyahu says Thursday that Israel is prepared to extend humanitarian assistance to the “gallant Kurdish people.”
Turkey launched airstrikes, fired artillery and began a ground offensive against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria on Wednesday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the campaign following President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to withdraw forces from the region. It essentially abandoned Syrian Kurdish fighters and left the U.S. ally vulnerable to a Turkish offensive that was widely condemned around the world.
The decision was a major shift in U.S. policy, raising fears in Israel that the unpredictable Trump could just as easily renege of his traditional support of Israel.
The U.N. refugee agency says tens of thousands of civilians in Syria are on the move to escape the fighting and seek safety amid a Turkish offensive into the area.
Thursday’s statement by UNHCR came a day after Turkish troops began a military operation against Kurdish fighters in Syria.
UNHCR called on parties to adhere to International Humanitarian Law, including providing access for aid agencies.
The agency said hundreds of thousands of civilians “in northern Syria are now in harm’s way. Civilians and civilian infrastructure must not be a target.”
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that more than 60,000 have fled their homes in northern Syria since Wednesday.
UNHCR said after eight years of conflict, Syria remains the largest refugee crisis in the world, with 5.6 million Syrians living as refugees.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab says he’s reached out to his Turkish counterpart to urge restraint following Turkey’s decision to launch an offensive into Kurdish-held areas in northern Syria.
Raab said in a tweet Thursday that he spoke with Mevlut Cavusoglu to express “disappointment and concern” about the incursion and call for restraint.
Raab says “the intervention risks greater humanitarian suffering and undermines the focus on countering” the activities of the Islamic State group.
Turkey’s assault on Kurdish-led forces follows U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the area.
A Kurdish news agency and a war monitor say Turkish troops have bombarded a convoy of vehicles taking residents of the northern city of Raqqa to a border town, inflicting casualties among them.
The Kurdish Hawar news agency said the Thursday’s attack on the road leading to the border town of Tal Abyad killed three people and wounded several others.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Turkish airstrike occurred when a convoy carrying a tribal leader reached the entrance of Tal Abyad. It said several people were wounded but that no one was killed.
Such contradictions in casualties’ figures are common in the aftermath of attacks.
Turkish troops have been bombarding the town of Tal Abyad since the start of their ground offensive against Kurdish fighters on Wednesday.
Two mortars fired from Syria have landed in a Turkish town along the border, wounding at least two people.
An Associated Press journalist said at least two government buildings were hit by the mortars in Sanliurfa province’s border town of Akcakale.
Numerous ambulances rushed to the scene following the attack. At least two people were taken to hospitals.
Turkish media said mortars were fired from the town of Tel Abyad in northeastern Syria.
Syrian Kurdish fighters have struck at least five different Turkish borders towns with dozens of mortars since Turkey launched a cross-border offensive against the group Wednesday.
Residents were asked to evacuate immediate border areas, remain indoors and be vigilant. Turkey has argued the operation as necessary for its national security.
Turkey’s invasion of northeastern Syria has been widely condemned.
Turkey’s president says his country would handle “as required” Islamic State militants in areas it captures during its current offensive into northeastern Syria against the Syrian Kurdish forces there.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s remarks followed international warnings that Turkey’s invasion of northeastern Syria could unravel counter-terrorism efforts.
Erdogan said in a speech on Thursday that Turkey would keep in custody IS fighters who should be jailed while deporting others to their countries of origin — if they could accept them.
He said women and children of the Islamic State group would go through a rehabilitation program and vowed that IS “will not have a presence in this area again.”
Erdogan stressed: “I want to give this guarantee to the whole world.”
Washington has backed and armed Syrian Kurdish forces to combat IS. Turkey’s military operation against the Kurdish fighters could undermine gains against IS and puts at risk the detention of tens of thousands of IS members.
Denmark and India have added their voices to the international condemnation and concerns over Turkey’s invasion of northeastern Syria in an offensive there against Syrian Kurdish fighters.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen called it “an extremely serious situation, and there is reason to be concerned about civilians.”
Frederiksen said Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod has summoned Turkey’s ambassador to Denmark “for a conversation in which we will assert our position.” No details were given as to when the Turkish. diplomat would meet Kofod.
India’s foreign ministry issued a press release saying New Delhi is “deeply concerned at the unilateral military offensive by Turkey in north-east Syria.”
It cautioned that Turkey’s actions can undermine stability in the region and the fight against terrorism. Its action also has the potential for causing humanitarian and civilian distress.
India also urged Turkey to “exercise restraint and respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria.”
The European Union says that the Turkish offensive in Kurdish-held areas of Syria is setting back any hope for progress toward ending the conflict.
EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said on Thursday that the offensive will worsen the stream of refugees from Syria, increase violence against innocent civilians and obstruct the fight against the Islamic State group.
She says: “We believe that new armed hostilities would further undermine the stability of the whole region, would exacerbate civilian suffering, would provoke further displacements, would add another obstacle to the very difficult UN led political process and would, that is also very important, threaten the progress that was achieved by the global coalition to defeat” IS.
She added that there is “no military solution to the conflict in Syria and the only sustainable solution is a political one.”
EU foreign ministers will discuss the crisis next Monday in Luxembourg before EU leaders will pick it up again during their two-day summit meeting starting next Thursday.
Turkey’s president says that there have been 109 “terrorists killed” — a reference to Syrian Kurdish fighters — since Ankara launched an offensive into Syria the previous day.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not elaborate and the reports on the ground did not indicate anything remotely close to such a large number of casualties.
Erdogan also warned the European Union not to call Ankara’s incursion into Syria an ‘invasion,’ and renewed his threat of letting Syrian refugees flood Europe.
He reiterated an earlier statement that Turkey could “open the gates” for an influx of Syrian migrants to Europe.
Erdogan spoke to ruling party officials on Thursday, saying Turkey seeks to prevent the creation of a “terror state” along its border with Syria.
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Turkey’s state-run news agency says Turkey-allied Syrian opposition fighters have “cleared of terror” two villages across the border in Syria — meaning there are no more Syrian Kurdish fighters in those villages.
Anadolu Agency said on Thursday the Turkish-backed fighters entered the villages of Yabisa and Tel Fander. It did not provide further details.
Maj. Youssef Hammoud, a spokesman for Turkey-backed Syrian rebels, tweeted that they were in Yabisa, near the town of Tal Abyad, describing it as “the first village to win freedom.”
Meanwhile, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Turkish commandos entered the village of Beir Asheq, near the town of Tal Abyad on Thursday morning.
Turkish forces began a ground offensive against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria on Wednesday under the cover of airstrikes and artillery shelling.
Finnish Prime Minister Antti Rinne, whose country currently holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, says that Finland condemns Turkey’s offensive in Syria and appeals for the cessation of hostilities.
Rinne said in a statement on Thursday that Turkey’s actions “aggravate the already complex crisis in Syria.”
He says: “We are very concerned about the impacts of the measures on the humanitarian situation in Syria. Hostilities in the region may provoke further displacements.”
Rinne added that the Finnish government would cease granting new arms exports licenses to Turkey or other countries “engaged in war” in the area.
EU foreign ministers will convene for a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday. At the gathering, Finland will call attention to Turkey’s attack, its impact on refugees in the region, and the humanitarian needs of Syria.
Turkey’s Defense Ministry says Turkish ground troops are continuing their advance against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.
A ministry statement early on Thursday did not provide further detail on the offensive but shared a brief video of commandos in action.
Turkey’s invasion of northeastern Syria began on Wednesday after U.S. troops pulled back from the area, paving the way for Turkey’s assault on Syrian Kurdish forces, long been allied with the U.S.
The ministry said Turkish jets and artillery struck 181 targets east of the Euphrates River since the incursion started.
Turkey says it intends to create a “safe zone” that would push Kurdish militia away from its border and eventually allow the repatriation of up to 2 million Syrian refugees.
The Turkish invasion is widely condemned around the world.