Heavy fighting continues as Turkey presses on with its military operation, now in its ninth day, against Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the military action aims to remove the Kurdish-led forces from the border area and create a “safe zone” to which millions of Syrian refugees can be returned.
The move came after the United States announced it was withdrawing its troops from the area, leaving the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), its main ally in the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) armed group, without US military support.
Here are the latest updates:
Thursday, October 17
Turkey could boost 2020 spending for Syria ‘safe zone’ housing
Turkey could allocate funds in its 2020 budget for building housing for refugees in a “safe zone” it wants to set up in northern Syria after a military incursion there, the head of the presidency’s budget directorate said.
Ankara wants to clear the Kurdish YPG militia from the length of its border with Syria and establish a zone that will extend some 20 miles (32 km) south. It says it will settle in that area up to 2 million of the 3.6 million refugees that Turkey currently hosts.
There are no funds allocated in the 2020 budget for the housing projects but it could be done if needed, Naci Agbal, the head of the Strategy and Budget Directorate said.
“The government budget is strong, flexible. The necessary initiative will be taken,” he said, adding that Turkey could also boost spending on military operations.
Report: Trump letter ‘dumped in trash’ in Turkey
Turkish officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the London-based Middle East Eye news website that they responded Trump’s letter in kind and with stronger language.
“We just dumped his letter to the trash,” one of them said.
“The date on the letter is 9 October, the same day we began Operation Peace Spring. Our president gave the best response by launching the operation on the same day at 4pm,” the official told MEE.
The leak came a day before US Vice President Mike Pence is set arrive in Ankara seeking a ceasefire between Turkey and the Kurdish-led SDF.
Former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu said all meetings with US officials should be cancelled.
“The Turkish nation and state were offended,” he tweeted.
Clashes between SDF and Turkey-backed froces continue in Ras al-Ain
Turkish forces and Kurdish fighters continue to battle in the border town of Ras al-Ain, considered a strategic point for both.
Syrian forces moving north have become a major obstacle for Turkey which launched its offensive into northeast Syria a week ago in attempt to create its so-called “safe-zone” in the area.
Russia which backs Syria has called Turkey’s incursion “unacceptable”.
Aid groups scramble to reach Syrians as battle lines shift
Humanitarian groups in northeastern Syria are scrambling to provide aid to hundreds of thousands of people as rapidly shifting battle lines make it increasingly difficult to reach them.
Nearly all foreign aid workers have been evacuated because of security concerns, and there are fears that local staff could face reprisals, either at the hands of Turkish-led forces pushing in from the north or Syrian troops fanning out across territory held by the embattled Kurds.
Doctors Without Borders, which operates in war zones around the globe and is known by its French acronym MSF, said Tuesday it had decided to suspend most of its activities and evacuate all its international staff from northeastern Syria.
The International Rescue Committee also said it has suspended its health operations in the northeast because of “hostilities and uncertainty.”
Hungary fearful of new of wave of Syria migrants
Hungary would have to “use force” at its southern border with Serbia to protect the European Union’s frontier if Turkey delivers on a threat to open the gates for refugees through the Balkans towards Europe, Hungary’s prime minister said.
“If Turkey sets off further hundreds of thousands on top of (existing migrant flows), then we will need to use force to protect the Hungarian border and the Serbian-Hungarian frontier and I do not wish for anyone that we should need to resort to that,” Prime Minister Viktor Orban said.
Erdogan to meet US delegation in Ankara
Turkish President Erdogan is expected to meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence in Ankara to discuss the Turkish offensive in northeast Syria.
“At this point, the vice president and I are planning to take off later this afternoon,” Pompeo told US media on Wednesday. “And we have every expectation that we will meet with President Erdogan.”
Erdogan told Sky News earlier on Wednesday that he would not meet with the US delegation led by Pence before reversing his position in comments to the Turkish press.
Wednesday, October 16
Trump sent threatening letter to Erdogan
On the day Turkey launched its offensive in northeast Syria, Trump wrote to Erdogan saying the Turkish president would be remembered as a “devil” if he moved ahead with the military action.
Trump started his October 9 letter suggesting they could “work out a good deal”.
“You don’t want to be responsible for the slaughtering of thousands of people, and I don’t want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy,” he wrote.
“History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way,” Trump continued. “It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen.”
“Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!” he said, adding that the SDF‘s commander was willing to negotiate.
The authenticity of the letter was confirmed by the White House.
Pompeo to visit Jerusalem and Brussels after Turkey
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to Jerusalem and Brussels after his visit to Turkey on Thursday with Vice President Mike Pence, the State Department said on Wednesday.
Pompeo will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Friday and then travel later that day to Brussels for a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, the statement said.
Pence and Pompeo are going to Turkey’s capital Ankara to urge Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to stop his invasion of Syria.
Democrats walk out of briefing with Trump on Turkey
Trump met members of Congress at the White House on Wednesday to discuss Turkey and Syria.
Democrats say Trump insulted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, calling her a “third-rate politician.” Democratic leaders left shortly afterwards.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is trying to pin the blame on Pelosi, saying she stormed out of the meeting.
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Senate Republicans defend US alliance with Syrian Kurds
Senate Republicans are sticking up for the US-allied Syrian Kurds after Trump defended his pullout of US troops on Wednesday.
GOP Leader Mitch McConnell called the partnership “a terrific alliance” that set the ISIL group back and says he is “sorry we are where we are”.
Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “has not been a reliable ally. The Kurds have been a reliable ally.”