Syrian forces swept into Kurdish areas in the country’s northeast on Monday amid flashes of fighting in minority-held areas and calls for help from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Syrian troops entered the city of Manbij in line with an agreement reached Sunday between Kurdish forces and Syrian and Turkish leaders, in which Kurdish officials agreed to hand over control of multiple cities in exchange for protection. Erdogan launched the Turkish offensive in Syria, called Operation Peace Spring, last week to clear out what Ankara considers to be Kurdish terrorists in the country’s northeastern sector.
Turkey’s aim is to create a “safe zone” in the northeast, near the border, to allow Syrian refugees in Turkey to resettle in their native country.
“We are about to implement our decision on Manbij,” Erdogan said earlier.
Erdogan called on NATO allies for support, saying Turkey is under “pressure” and “harassment” by Kurdish terrorists.
“We are a NATO ally. … They need to stand by us,” he said.
The Turkish leader said more than 500 Kurdish “terrorists” have been killed since the operation began last week.
Syrian state-run media reported Monday that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces were traveling north to “confront Turkish aggression.”
The fighting began last week after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, allowing Erdogan’s military to begin the offensive and drawing substantial criticism from the international community and members of both major U.S. political parties.
As a response to the fighting, nations in the European Union agreed Monday to halt exporting weapons to Turkey, saying they undermine stability and security in the region and hinders the Syrian peace process. EU foreign ministers reached the agreement at a meeting in Luxembourg, and also said they will draft a sanctions list related to Turkish drilling off Cyprus.
EU diplomats said the move is effectively an identical, quicker version of a full formal EU arms embargo.
“Turkey’s security concerns in North-East Syria should be addressed through political and diplomatic means, not with military action, and in accordance with international humanitarian law,” the EU Council said.
France, Germany, Finland and Sweden had already barred arms sales to Turkey.
The leaders of several European countries blamed Washington for the deteriorating situation Monday.
France is working to protect its troops in Syria, who have been there to support U.S. forces in the fight against the Islamic State terror group. Belgium and other nations are concerned captured European Union natives who joined the group could be set free or break out, and would be able to easily infiltrate Europe with terror attacks.
French President Emmanuel Macron has said previously his troops would also leave in the event of a U.S. pullout.
At least 11 civilians were killed and 74 injured in Ras al-Ain Serekaniye, just south of the Syria-Turkey border, the Kurdish Red Crescent reported, and 200,000 have been displaced. The U.N. World Food Program said it’s planning assistance for 400,000 people who may need food and other aid.
Trump threatened Turkey with “big” sanctions Monday, suggesting Kurdish forces could be releasing terrorist captives to re-engage the U.S. military.
“We are not going into another war between people who have been fighting each other for 200 years,” Trump tweeted. “Europe had a chance to get their [IS] prisoners but didn’t want the cost. ‘Let the USA pay,’ they said … Do people really think we should go to war with NATO member Turkey? Never ending wars will end!”
A video circulated online claimed to show Turkish-backed militants executing a Kurdish politician, her driver, members of the Kurdish security forces and several civilians.
Dozens of Palestinian demonstrators in the Gaza Strip marched Monday to support the Turkish incursion, following days of similar shows of support.