First Turkish soldier killed during Syria operation
October 12, 2019
AKKALE, Turkey – Turkey said on Friday that one of its soldiers was killed in northern Syria, the first such fatality in its offensive against a Kurdish militia for a third day, while tens of thousands of people were forced to flee.
Three more soldiers were injured in the operating zone, the Turkish Defense Ministry said in a statement after clashes with the militia on Thursday. Further details were not disclosed.
Fighting broke out in several locations along the roughly 120-kilometer front where operations are focused, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a Kurdish military official said on Thursday.
At least 23 fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, and six fighters with a Turkish-backed Syrian rebel group had been killed, said the observatory, which monitors the war.
It is estimated that 70,000 people have been newly displaced since Ankara launched its operation, according to the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad on Thursday blamed the Kurdish forces for the ongoing offensive, saying they had refused to cooperate in attempts to ease the situation in the Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Syria.
He cited the case of Afrin, a northern Syrian enclave that fell into the hands of the Turkey-backed rebels following a Turkish offensive in early 2018. This happened because the Kurdish forces had refused to hand over that area to the Syrian army, Mekdad said.
“Anyway, the Syrian state welcomes all of its citizens but we are not going to negotiate with them (Kurdish forces) on the terms of separatism or on the logic that they are a strong force on the ground,” he said.
Mekdad reaffirmed the stance of the Syrian government that it will confront all foreign invaders.
“We stress again that the Syrian army is fighting the terrorist groups across Syria and will fight against the invading foreign forces that exist illegally on Syrian soil and we are on full readiness to confront all challenges facing Syria,” he said.
The offensive against the SDF, which began on Wednesday after the United States pulled its troops out of the way, opens one of the biggest new fronts in years in an eight-year civil war that has drawn in global powers.
Led by the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, the Kurdish fighters were a key partner of the US in the fight against the Islamic State group. They were viewed by Turkey as terrorists due to their ties with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged decades of separatist violence inside Turkey.
US President Donald Trump said on Thursday that he hopes to mediate between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds, and also threatened to punish Turkey if its offensive in northeast Syria goes beyond limits.
Trump tweeted that the US has three options for the conflict in Syria: “Send in thousands of troops and win Militarily, hit Turkey very hard Financially and with Sanctions, or mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds!”
“I hope we can mediate,” Trump told the press later.
In cautioning Ankara, he said: “Turkey knows where I stand… We are going to possibly do something very, very tough with respect to sanctions and other financial things.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu responded on Thursday that Turkey would retaliate if the US imposed sanctions over its offensive into northeast Syria, according to media reports.
UN chief Antonio Guterres expressed “deep concern” over the violence, while the Security Council’s five European members urged Turkey “to cease the unilateral military action”.
Next week, the European Union summit will discuss imposing sanctions against Turkey over its actions in Syria, French State Secretary for European Affairs Amelie de Montchalin said on Friday.