'On the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe': Turkish offensive against Syria begins

When the first missile fell to the ground, the people of Ras al-Ayn were ready. Local residents have long been warned of attacks and wars, and those who fled the initial targets of Turkey's offensive in northern Kurdish Syria did so with little panic.

In tractors, horses, cars and motorbikes, the region's youngest refugees have left the border town long identified as the starting point for a Turkish invasion.

Turkish jets took off from the northern runways, sending missiles across the sky and into one of the city's few skyscrapers. By sunset, about 15 shells had landed on Ras al-Ayn, according to local official Hevin Darwiche.

As night approached, new fears began to increase; could darkness bring a ground offensive that would send substitute forces trained by Ankara to retake the predominantly Arab city of the Kurds?

Civilians flee with their belongings. Photo: Delil Souleiman / AFP via Getty Images

Here are the contradictions of the Turkish operation: Kurdish forces that just months ago were fighting alongside the US military against Isis were now about to be attacked with the explicit permission of the US president. In addition, many of Turkey's Arab proxy forces were former US allies for several years, created to fight the Syrian regime before Washington lost interest.

Nearby, French forces garrisoned near the border also began to leave the area, according to local reports and regional diplomats. Their raison d'etre was to defeat the Islamic group Stateterror, whose remnants remain detained in four camps - two of which were volatile and tense before the Turkish impulse.

Isis has been contained, but, as European diplomats warned this week, it remains a lethal threat to global security.

Now would not be the ideal time to leave - were it not for the fact that US forces first left the province. Without any of their friends disturbing the Turks, the Kurds would have to fight for themselves. And that is what the Kurdish forces promised to do, as sporadic bombing continued into the night.

"We will clash with the Turks and not allow them to cross the border," said Mustafa Bali, head of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) media office. "We will use all our possibilities against Turkish aggression."

A statement issued by SDF General Command said: “The border areas of northeastern Syria are on the brink of possible humanitarian catastrophe. All indications and field information, including military accumulation on the Turkish side of the border, indicate that our border areas will be attacked by Turkey in cooperation with the Syrian opposition linked to Turkey.

"This attack will shed the blood of thousands of innocent civilians because our border areas are overcrowded."

The impact of the invasion on local communities is likely to send tens of thousands of people to the Iraqi border, Iraqi Kurdistan officials said. "We are very concerned about this," said one official. "Of course we need to take care of them."

Between Ras al-Ayn and the city of Ain Issa - which was also bombarded by Turkish jets - a local driver said the number of new exiles began to grow at night, adding: “There are groups that run away using what they find. People are afraid of the artillery that hits the city.

What happens next is the subject of much speculation across the province, as changes in global alliances are difficult to digest.

Turkish soldiers with armored vehicles during a military operation in Kurdish areas of northern Syria. Photography: STR / EPA

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov tweeted to say that he called on the Kurds to engage in direct discussions with the Syrian government - a plan that is also seen locally as perhaps the only remaining buffer against the invading Turks.

The SDF said it welcomed Lavrov's announcement. In particular, Syria's Kurdish leadership had long feared the cost of a rapprochement with Damascus, which it neither opposed nor supported during the eight years of civil war.

In Qamishli, the regional capital of the Kurdish province, hit by two bombs in the afternoon dam, the return of Assad's "regime" was seen as inevitable in many sectors.

In fact, the Syrian military did not leave the city during the war - continuing to control checkpoints in two neighborhoods and the road to the city's airport.

Several hours west on the Iraqi side of the border, a Peshmerga guard pointed to nearby lands, which he said was attacked by the Turkish air force at night. “They were hitting the PKK, he said. “They may be tough friends, but they are still Kurds. We are seeing a lot more people leaving the border than arriving. And we are expecting much more. ”

Source: Guardian

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