NewsWorld News


Syria fighting worsens humanitarian crisis

Posted at 2:04 PM, Oct 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-14 17:22:41-04

UPDATE: WASHINGTON (AP) - President Donald Trump says the roughly 1,000 U.S. troops he has ordered to leave Syria will remain in the Middle East to prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State threat.

In a written statement Monday announcing his authorization of economic sanctions on Turkey, Trump made clear that the withdrawing troops will leave Syria entirely.

He said the troops will "redeploy and remain in the region." He described their mission as "monitoring the situation" and preventing a "repeat of 2014," when IS fighters who had organized in Syria as a fighting force swept into neighboring Iraq and took control of Iraq's north and west.

Trump confirmed that the small number of U.S. troops at a base in southern Syria will remain there.

A full statement from President Trump can be viewed below:

I will soon be issuing an Executive Order authorizing the imposition of sanctions against current and former officials of the Government of Turkey and any persons contributing to Turkey’s destabilizing actions in northeast Syria. Likewise, the steel tariffs will be increased back up to 50 percent, the level prior to reduction in May. The United States will also immediately stop negotiations, being led by the Department of Commerce, with respect to a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey. This Order will enable the United States to impose powerful additional sanctions on those who may be involved in serious human rights abuses, obstructing a ceasefire, preventing displaced persons from returning home, forcibly repatriating refugees, or threatening the peace, security, or stability in Syria. The Order will authorize a broad range of consequences, including financial sanctions, the blocking of property, and barring entry into the United States.

Since my first day in office, the Trump Administration has worked tirelessly to preserve the safety and security of the United States and its citizens. The United States and our partners have liberated 100 percent of ISIS’s ruthless territorial caliphate. Turkey must not put these gains in jeopardy. Turkey must also prioritize the protection of civilians, particularly vulnerable ethnic and religious minorities in northeast Syria. Indiscriminate targeting of civilians, destruction of civilian infrastructure, and targeting of ethnic or religious minorities is unacceptable. Additionally, the return of refugees must be conducted in a safe, voluntary, and dignified manner. Turkey’s military offensive is endangering civilians, and threatening peace, security, and stability in the region. I have been perfectly clear with President Erdogan: Turkey’s action is precipitating a humanitarian crisis and setting conditions for possible war crimes. Turkey must ensure the safety of civilians, including religious and ethnic minorities, and is now, or may be in the future, responsible for the ongoing detention of ISIS terrorists in the region. Unfortunately, Turkey does not appear to be mitigating the humanitarian effects of its invasion. As I have said, I am withdrawing the remaining United States service members from northeast Syria. As United States forces have defeated the ISIS physical caliphate, United States troops coming out of Syria will now redeploy and remain in the region to monitor the situation and prevent a repeat of 2014, when the neglected threat of ISIS raged across Syria and Iraq. A small footprint of United States forces will remain at At Tanf Garrison in southern Syria to continue to disrupt remnants of ISIS. The United States will aggressively use economic sanctions to target those who enable, facilitate, and finance these heinous acts in Syria. I am fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey’s economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path.


BEIRUT (AP) - The Latest on Turkey's invasion of northern Syria (all times local):

9:50 p.m.

U.N. officials say the latest fighting in northeast Syria is compounding an already dire humanitarian situation.

According to U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric, at least 160,000 civilians have been displaced since the Turkish offensive began on Oct. 9. That's mostly from violence around the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain.

Dujarric told reporters Monday that the U.N. World Food Program has so far provided immediate food assistance to more than 70,000 people fleeing towns as the fighting continues.

He said "most of the displaced are staying with relatives or host communities, but increasing numbers are arriving at collective shelters in the area."

Northeast Syria was already facing a humanitarian crisis before the Turkish offensive, with 1.8 million of the 3 million women, children and men in the region in need of assistance, "including over 910,000 in acute need," Dujarric said.

He said there are also "heightened concerns" for vulnerable people in camps for the displaced, including al-Hol. That camp holds some 68,000 people who fled the last battlefields of the Islamic State group - 94% of them women and children.

8:30 p.m.

Syrian state media says government forces have entered the northern Kurdish-held town of Manbij, hours after Turkey-backed opposition fighters announced that they are advancing on the city.

SANA news agency gave no further details. Monday's move was expected, coming a day after Syrian Kurdish militias struck an alliance with government forces to help fend off the Turkish offensive.

Manbij houses U.S. troops, and an American official says troops are still in the flashpoint city, preparing to leave.

The U.S. and the Syrian Kurds had worked together to fight the Islamic State group since 2014.

But the U.S. recently ordered American troops in northern Syria to step aside, clearing the way for Turkey's invasion. Ankara considers these Syrian Kurdish fighters as terrorists because of their links to outlawed Kurdish groups in Turkey.

The military action by Ankara sets up a potential clash between Turkey and Syria and raises the specter of a resurgent Islamic State group.

8:10 p.m.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry says it "condemns and rejects" a call by the European Union for member states to stop selling arms to Turkey over its offensive against Syrian Kurdish militias in northern Syria.

In a statement issued Monday, the ministry defended the military offensive, now in its sixth day. Turkey considers these Syrian Kurdish fighters as terrorists because of their links to outlawed Kurdish groups in Turkey. Since 2014, the Syrian Kurds fought alongside the U.S. in defeating the Islamic State in Syria.

The ministry said the military offensive is exercising Turkey's right to self-defense based on international laws. It accused the EU of taking a "protective stance" toward "terrorist elements."

The ministry statement came hours after the EU unanimously condemned Turkey's invasion of Syria and asked member states to stop selling arms to Ankara.


7:05 p.m.

Turkey is telling the U.N. Security Council that its military offensive into northeast Syria was launched in exercise of its right to self-defense under the U.N. Charter.

In a letter to the council circulated Monday, Turkey said it is countering an "imminent terrorist threat" and ensuring the security of its borders from Syrian Kurds, which it calls "terrorists," as well as the Islamic State extremist group.

Since 2014, the Kurds have fought alongside the U.S. in defeating the Islamic State in Syria.

The fast-deteriorating situation was set in motion last week, when U.S. President Donald Trump ordered American troops in northern Syria to step aside, clearing the way for an attack by Turkey, now in its sixth day. Trump's move was decried at home and abroad as a betrayal of an ally.

Turkey's U.N. Ambassador Feridun Sinirlioglu said in the letter to the Security Council dated Oct. 9 that its counter-terrorism operation will be "proportionate, measured and responsible."


6:30 p.m.

Iran's president is urging Turkey to halt its military offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria.

Speaking at a press conference Monday, Hassan Rouhani: "We do not accept the method that they have chosen." Turkey says it's fighting to clear border areas of Syrian Kurdish fighters, which it considers to be terrorists because of their links to Kurdish militants in Turkey.

While Iranian authorities have previously expressed opposition to the Turkish offensive, now in its sixth day, this was Rouhani's first direct comment.

Iran and Russia have allied with the Syrian government in the country's eight-year war. Syrian troops abandoned the northeast to Syrian Kurdish-led forces in 2012.

The Kurds had allied with the U.S. to fight the Islamic State group. But after American troops moved aside in northern Syria, clearing the way for the attack by Turkey, the Kurds struck a deal with the Syrian government for assistance.


6:20 p.m.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is calling for "immediate de-escalation" in the Turkish offensive in northeast Syria.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Monday the secretary-general is also urging all parties to resolve their differences through peaceful means.

Guterres also raised "serious concern" about the consequences of the possible unintended release of fighters from the Islamic State group as a result of the military operations.

Dujarric says the U.N. chief continues to urge "maximum restraint" and is "gravely concerned" about the Turkish invasion, now in its sixth day. Dujarric says the fighting has "reportedly resulted in many civilian casualties and the displacement of at least 160,000 civilians."

The spokesman said Guterres stresses "that any military operation must fully respect international law," and that civilians and civilian infrastructure must be protected.


5:55 p.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey's military offensive into northeast Syria is as "vital" to Turkey as its 1974 military intervention in Cyprus, which split the island in two.

In a speech he delivered in Baku, Azerbaijan on Monday, Erdogan also made clear Turkey would not halt its offensive despite the widespread condemnation it has drawn.

Turkey launched its offensive into northeastern Syria last week to carve out a "safe zone" along its border, ostensibly to push out Syrian Kurdish fighters it considers to be terrorists because of their links to Kurdish militants in Turkey.

Erdogan said: "We are determined to take our operation to the end. We will finish what we started. A hoisted flag does not come down."

Cyprus was divided in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot state on the island's northern third.


5:35 p.m.

Turkey-backed Syrian fighters say they have begun an offensive alongside Turkish troops to capture the Kurdish-held town of Manbij.

Mustafa Seijari, an official with the Turkey-backed fighters, tweeted: "The battle of Manbij has begun."

Turkey's private NTV television reported that Turkish special forces and commandos began advancing toward Manbij on Monday afternoon. CNN-Turk also mentioned the attack, reporting that the sound of clashes could be heard.

The Turkish invasion of northern Syria comes after the Kurds' former ally, the U.S., ordered its troops to withdraw from the border zone. The Kurds then struck a deal Sunday with Syrian government forces to fend off the Turkish offensive, now in its sixth day.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had earlier signaled that Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters were ready to attack Manbij.


3:00 p.m.

The European Union has unanimously condemned Turkey's military move into northern Syria and asked all member states to stop selling arms to Ankara.

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said in an interview with The Associated Press that the 28 member states "have unanimously decided to condemn - that is the verb, not concern, not worry - but to condemn in strong terms what in the end is a military attack."

Borrell said the EU called on Turkey "to stop immediately these military actions." He said that at the meeting of EU foreign ministers, the member states "call also (on) all member states to stop selling any kind of arms" to Turkey.

Despite the criticism from its NATO allies, Turkey showed little sign of relenting its military offensive against Kurdish groups in northern Syria, in its sixth day.


2:55 p.m.

A French diplomatic official says his country has no choice but to pull out its troops from Syria, following the U.S. decision to withdraw amid the Turkish offensive in the border area.

The official stressed Monday that France only has a small number of troops on the ground that cannot stay in the current conditions.

The official, speaking anonymously, was not allowed to disclose publicly the sensitive information.

French President Emmanuel Macron said overnight that "security measures" were to be put in place in the coming hours for French military and civilian personnel in the zone. Some French aid workers are also present in the region.

France has deployed an estimated few hundred special forces in the battle against the Islamic State group in Syria, but its military never comments on its special forces. The country has also contributed to coalition airstrikes, mostly through reconnaissance.

France joined the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq in September 2014 and in Syria in September 2015.

- By Sylvie Corbet


2:45 p.m.

Turkey's defense minister is accusing Syrian Kurdish fighters of "emptying" a prison in northeast Syria holding Islamic State group militants before Turkish troops arrived in the area.

Hulusi Akar said Monday the prison was the only one holding IS militants located in the border strip east of the Euphrates River targeted in Turkey's military offensive.

Hundreds of Islamic State families and supporters escaped from a holding camp in Syria amid the fighting between Turkish forces and the Kurds. It was not immediately clear if Akar was referring to that camp.

Turkey's cross-border incursion, now into its sixth day, has raised the specter of an IS resurgence.

Turkey says it is determined to fight the IS group in addition to the Syrian Kurdish forces that it considers a threat because of their links to outlawed Kurdish rebels in Turkey.


2:10 p.m.

The Kremlin says Russia and Turkey have been in close contact about the Turkish offensive in northern Syria.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday that Russian and Turkish officials have remained in close contact.

Moscow has taken a careful stance on the Turkish operation, emphasizing the need to respect Syria's territorial integrity but also noting Turkey's right to secure its border.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Russian President Vladimir Putin just before launching the attack Thursday.

Asked if there is a danger of a clash between Russian and Turkish forces in Syria, Peskov said "we don't want to even think about that," adding that there is a link between the two militaries to prevent any incidents. He wouldn't comment on the Syrian army's move north against Turkish forces.


1:55 p.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has criticized NATO allies which are looking to broaden an arms embargo against Turkey over its push into northern Syria.

Speaking in Istanbul on Monday, Erdogan said he had spoken to Germany's Angela Merkel and Britain's Boris Johnson, adding that both leaders did not "know the truths" about Turkey's operation and were under a "serious disinformation pressure."

European Union foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg were scheduled to discuss expanding an arms embargo. Germany, France and the Netherlands have already suspended arms sales to Turkey.

Erdogan said: "We are a NATO ally. Please note that these countries are all NATO countries."

He added that Turkey was threatened by "terror" organizations in Syria, referring to Kurdish groups that Ankara considered a threat for links to a long-running insurgency within its own borders.

Syria's Kurds were key allies in the U.S.-led coalition's fight against the Islamic State group.


1:40 p.m.

The president of Ireland is urging Turkey to stop its offensive in northern Syria in favor of pursing diplomacy.

Michael Higgins expressed his "deep concern" over Turkey's unilateral intervention in Syria amid concerns over the possibility of a humanitarian disaster.

He says the possibility of a forced return of Syrian refugees in northern Syria is "appalling" and "unacceptable."

The Irish president says any attempt at demographic change in that part of the country "must appall the international community."

Higgins was speaking after talks Monday with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.

The Irish president's appeal comes as Syrian government forces are reportedly moving against Turkish forces in the north of the county following an agreement with besieged Kurdish forces.


12:00 p.m.

Syria's state news agency says government forces have entered the northern town of Tabqa, as they move north against Turkish forces in the country.

SANA said Monday that in addition to Tabqa and its air base that carries the same name, Syrian troops entered several other villages on the southern parts of Raqqa province.

Tabqa was previously a stronghold of the Islamic State group, and is on the road to the city of Raqqa, which was IS' de facto capital, until it lost both in 2017.

The move toward Tabqa and nearby villages came a day after Syria's Kurds said Syrian government forces agreed to help them fend off Turkey's invasion - a major shift in alliances as U.S. troops withdraw from the northern border area.


11:25 a.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has signaled that Turkish troops and their Syrian opposition allies are ready to launch an assault on the Syrian-Kurdish held city of Manbij.

Erdogan told reporters on Monday: "We are about to implement our decision on Manbij."

He added that Turkey's aim would be to return the city to Arab populations whom he said where its rightful owners.

Earlier, Turkish television reports said Turkey's forces were preparing for an operation on Manbij and were positioned at the city's edge.

Syria's Kurds have struck a deal with Syrian government forces to fend off the Turkish invasion, as their former ally, the U.S. has ordered a withdrawal from the northern border zone.


9:50 a.m.

European Union leaders are looking to broaden an arms embargo against NATO ally Turkey to protest its offensive against Kurdish forces in neighboring Syria.

Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said Monday "it is against international law to invade a neighboring country and Turkey should as every other country abide by international law."

Blok was speaking at the EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg.

Germany, France and the Netherlands have already suspended arms sales to Turkey.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that he also wanted a "a strong position on the export of arms to Turkey."

But Le Drian also called on the United States "above all" to call for a meeting of the international coalition against the Islamic State group, over alarm that the chaos caused by the Turkish offensive was reviving the threat of IS.

Syria's Kurds were key allies in a U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group.


9:30 a.m.

Syria's state news agency says government forces have entered the northern town of Tal Tamr that is close to Turkey's border.

SANA said Monday morning that the Syrian army moved into the area to "confront the Turkish aggression," without giving further details.

The report says residents of Tal Tamr that is about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Turkish border welcomed the troops.

It did not say from which area the Syrian army marched toward the town.

The move toward Tal Tamr came a day after Syria's Kurds said Syrian government forces agreed to help them fend off Turkey's invasion - a major shift in alliances that came after President Donald Trump ordered all U.S. troops withdrawn from the northern border area amid the rapidly deepening chaos.