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October 15, 2019

Syrian army moves to confront Turkish forces

Top Story

October 15, 2019

DAMASCUS: Syria’s army has deployed near the Turkish border hours after Syrian Kurdish forces previously allied with the US said they had reached a deal with Damascus to help them fend off Turkey’s invasion.

The announcement of a deal between Syria’s Kurds and its government is a major shift in alliances that came after President Donald Trump ordered all US troops withdrawn from the northern border area amid the rapidly deepening chaos.

The shift sets up a potential clash between Turkey and Syria and raises the spectre of a resurgence of the so-called Islamic State group as the US relinquishes any remaining influence in northern Syria to President Bashar Assad and his chief backer, Russia.

On Monday morning, Syria’s state news agency said that the army had moved into the town of Tal Tamr, which is about 12 miles from the Turkish border. Sana said government forces would “confront the Turkish aggression” without giving further details. Photos posted by Sana showed several vehicles and a small number of troops.

Tal Tamr is a predominantly Assyrian Christian town that was once held by IS before it was retaken by Kurdish-led forces.. Sana did not say from which area the Syrian army had moved into the town. Despite widespread criticism from its Nato allies in Europe and the US, Turkey has pressed on with its offensive into northern Syria.

Meanwhile, European Union nations vented outrage at Turkey’s military offensive in northern Syria against the Kurds and joined France and Germany in banning arms sales to Ankara, a rare move against a Nato ally for many of them.

They also prepared sanctions against Turkish companies and individuals involved in the gas drilling in the Mediterranean Sea close to EU member Cyprus and were poised, if necessary, to implement that at short notice. France and Cyprus are conducting naval manoeuvres there now.

“There is a strong commitment by all members of the council to take the actions required to stop selling arms to Turkey,” Josep Borrell, the Spanish foreign minister who is tipped to become EU foreign policy chief next month, said.

Erdogan on Monday criticised his European allies, saying: “We are a Nato ally. Please note that these countries are all Nato countries.” He added: “Whose side should they be on, according to Article Five?”

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg made that point Monday, telling Nato’s Parliamentary Assembly in London that he expects “Turkey to act with restraint and in coordination with other allies so that we can preserve the gains we have made against our common enemy:” the so-called Islamic State group. “These gains must not be jeopardised,” Stoltenberg said.

French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the Turkish military operation had already displaced 130,000 people. “The Turkish offensive has the risk of bringing (Islamic State) to the fore again in different ways,” Le Drian said. “It is especially grave since it will engender a real humanitarian disaster.”

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