Syrians welcome Syrian government forces as they enter the northern town of Ain Issa, near Tal Abyad. AFP
Turkish forces continued bombarding Syrian Kurdish positions in northeast Syria in a week-long offensive even as US President Donald Trump said he was putting the brakes on talks over a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey. He also declared raising steel tariffs back up to 50 per cent. Trump also imposed sanctions on three senior Turkish officials and Turkey's defence and energy ministries.
The move came as the European Union, furious over Turkey's military offensive in northern Syria against the Kurds, joined France and Germany in banning arms sales to Ankara.
There was heavy shelling of targets in the countryside of Ras al Ayn, days after Turkey announced that it had captured the border town. Turkish jets also strafed the area.
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed not to allow any Daesh fighters to escape from northern Syria.
However, Syria’s return to the northeast, dominated by the Kurds for years, prompted foreign aid workers and journalists as well to flee to Iraq.
Meanwhile, China's foreign ministry urged Turkey on Tuesday to stop military action in Syria and "come back to the right track".
As world leaders lambasted Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the ‘invasion’ of northern Syria, the Turkish President told French President Emmanuel Macron in a phone call that the operation would help in achieving not only regional stability but also global peace.
While American soldiers started scrambling for Syria's exits US Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell on Monday voiced grave concern over the US response to Turkey's incursion in Syria, saying, "Abandoning this fight now and withdrawing US forces from Syria would re-create the very conditions that we have worked hard to destroy and invite the resurgence of Daesh.”
Such a withdrawal would also create a broader power vacuum in the country that will be exploited by Iran and Russia, he added.
American troops prepared for a full withdrawal as Turkish forces pressed an offensive against the Kurds.
The preparations, triggered by Trump's decision Saturday to expand a limited troop pullout into a complete withdrawal, came as Trump's national security team considered imposing what he called "big sanctions" on NATO ally Turkey.
The Syrian regime deployed troops near the Turkish border and entered a key city on Monday to contain Ankara's deadly offensive against the Kurds.
The army has kept a presence in Kurdish-controlled Qamishli and Hasakeh in Syria's northeast since the 2011 outbreak of the country's war, and deployed a limited number of troops around the strategic city of Manbij last year at the request of Kurdish forces.
Their new deployment, notably inside Manbij, marks the regime's return to a region from which Damascus started to withdraw in 2012 and a significant gain for President Bashar al-Assad, who has vowed to reclaim all of Syrian territory.
Kurds have announced a deal with Syrian regime forces on a Syrian troop deployment near the border with Turkey following a US withdrawal announcement.
Soldiers waving Syrian flags deployed west of Tall Tamr, not far from the flashpoint border town of Ras Al Ain, which has been a key target of Turkish forces and their proxies since they launched their onslaught six days ago.Tall Tamr is about 30 kilometres (18 miles) from the border but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said some units in the area had moved as close as six kilometres (four miles).
Meanwhile, the United States appears to be heading toward a full military withdrawal from Syria amid growing chaos, cries of betrayal and signs that Turkey's invasion could fuel a broader war.
The accord would also allow for the liberation of other Syrian cities occupied by the Turkish army such as Afrin.
Defence Secretary Mark Esper said Sunday that President Donald Trump had directed US troops in northern Syria to begin pulling out "as safely and quickly as possible." He did not say Trump ordered troops to leave Syria, but that seemed like the next step in a combat zone growing more unstable by the hour.
Esper, interviewed on two TV news shows, said the administration was considering its options.
"We have American forces likely caught between two opposing advancing armies and it's a very untenable situation," Esper said.
This seemed likely to herald the end of a five-year effort to partner with Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters to ensure a lasting defeat of the Islamic State group. Hundreds of Daesh supporters escaped a holding camp amid clashes between invading Turkish-led forces and Kurdish fighters, and analysts said an IS resurgence seemed more likely, just months after Trump declared the extremists defeated.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said the offensive would stretch from Kobani in the west to Hasaka in the east, going some 30km into Syrian territory, “in line with the safe zone map which we declared previously.”
“President Donald Trump had directed US troops in northern Syria to begin pulling out as safely and quickly as possible. We have American forces likely caught between two opposing advancing armies and it's a very untenable situation.”
He told a news conference in Istanbul that the border town of Ras al Ain was already under Turkish control.
Ankara also said Turkish and allied Syrian rebel forces had seized a highway some 30-35 km into Syrian territory, which would cut a major artery linking the Kurdish-run regions of war-torn Syria’s north.
An SDF official said clashes were continuing along the road.
Reports of civilian casualties also surfaced.
A Turkish air strike in Ras al Ain killed nine people including five civilians on Sunday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.
The SDF said a “civilian convoy” had been targeted.
More than 130,000 people have been displaced owing to the fighting, the United Nations said on Sunday.
The UN said about 400,000 civilians in the Syrian conflict zone may require aid and protection in the coming period.
Women affiliated with Daesh and their children fled in hordes from a camp where they were being held in northern Syria on Sunday after bombardment by Turkish forces.
Turkey now faces threats of possible sanctions from the United States unless it calls off the incursion.
The SDF has been keeping thousands of Daesh militants in jail and tens of thousands of their family members in camps.
The UAE is deeply concerned with the negative impact on the humanitarian situation in Syria.
But this weekend, 785 Daesh-affiliated foreigners escaped the camp at Ain Issa, the region’s Kurdish-led administration said in a statement.
The United Arab Emirates has called upon Turkey and all other foreign forces to withdraw from Syria and to seek a political solution.
The UAE also stated that the minimum action incumbent upon Arab countries is the adoption of a firm response to aggression against any Arab country, which is seen as aggression against the national security of all Arab states.
This came in a speech delivered today by Dr Anwar Bin Mohammed Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, who headed the UAE delegation at the emergency meeting of the Arab Foreign Ministers held at the General Secretariat of the Arab League in Cairo.
The meeting, which took place in the presence of Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Abul Gheit and was chaired by representatives of the Republic of Iraq, discussed means to counter the Turkish aggression on Syrian territory.
"We meet today while our [Arab] nation is facing unprecedented challenges and the region is going through volatile times that require us to deal with them in a reasonable manner. We meet at a time when some regional parties have resorted to reckless behaviour that threatens the unity and sovereignty of a brotherly Arab country."
Dr Gargash said the Turkish assault on northeast Syria represents flagrant aggression against the sovereignty of a fellow Arab country and exploitation of the conditions that country is currently facing in contravention of all relevant international laws and norms and in a bid to destabilise the region.
He expressed the UAE's utmost condemnation of Turkish aggression in Syria as unacceptable.
He also affirmed that the UAE rejects any escalatory measures that could be taken further to this aggression, deeming them illegal and in violation of international law. He stressed the need for Arabs to act in order to prevent the future of Syria from being exploited by external actors with rash interests.
"The UAE considers it necessary to play an active Arab role in Syria and to be spurred by this aggression to take necessary measures to confront any incursions against Arab territories."
Dr Gargash went on to say that the UAE is deeply concerned with the negative impact on the humanitarian situation in Syria, which will further aggravate the suffering of the Syrian people.
"From the very beginning, this aggression led to the killing of innocent people and will certainly result in a humanitarian crisis with thousands of innocent civilians fleeing for safety and security away from the killings."
He indicated that the end of this aggression will present a new plight, with winter quickly approaching and the probability of a demographic change endangering the structure of the Syrian community, as such violence follows in the footsteps of humanitarian crimes committed following Iranian intervention.
Dr Gargash called upon the international community to shoulder its responsibility in taking a firm stance against this aggression by demanding a withdrawal of Turkish and other foreign forces from Syrian territory and by focusing instead on political solution as the only way to end the Syrian crisis.
He affirmed the UAE's support for a political solution and the efforts of UN Special Envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen to reach a solution on the basis of the Geneva Communique to maintain the unity, sovereignty, and stability of Syria, as well as the safety and security of its people. He noted that the UAE will spare no effort in contributing to international efforts aimed at alleviating the plight of the Syrian people.
Gargash said that Turkish incursion into Syria is mired in suspicion regarding its stated objectives and will only lead to the strengthening of terrorists' capabilities, warning that Daesh may take advantage of the circumstances surrounding the Turkish assault.
Dr Gargash expressed the UAE's appreciation of efforts to hold the emergency meeting of the Arab foreign ministers "in light of the serious developments that require swift action to find a solution to the prolonged crisis in a way that will meet the aspirations of the brotherly Syrian people."
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