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Syrian army joins forces with Kurds to beat back Turkey’s offensive

By Tom Gillespie

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A Turkish-backed Syrian fighter fires during clashes in the border town of Ras al Ain

(SKY NEWS) — Kurdish-led fighters and Syrian government troops are going to be deployed side by side along the country’s border with Turkey.

The announcement marks a major shift in alliance for Syria’s Kurds, who had long-been partners with the US in the fight against Islamic State.

It is in response to Turkey’s offensive in northern Syria, and the Kurdish-led administration there says the army deployment is designed to counter “this aggression and liberate the areas that the Turkish army and mercenaries have entered”.

In other developments, France’s president has told the leaders of the US and Turkey that the offensive must “stop immediately”.

Emmanuel Macron, alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel, told the world leaders: “We have a common desire that this offensive ends.

“This offensive risks creating an unsustainable humanitarian situation and to help Islamic State re-emerge in the region.”

Turkey’s incursion has raised international alarm – and came after Mr Trump’s surprise move to pull a group of US forces from a section of the border.

The US is considering plans to withdraw the bulk of its troops from northern Syria in the coming days, two anonymous US officials told Reuters on Sunday.

US Defence Secretary Mark Esper announced earlier that he was acting on orders from Mr Trump to begin a deliberate withdrawal from northern Syria, where the US has around 1,000 forces.

Mr Esper did not elaborate on the timing of the withdrawal, saying only that he wanted it to be done “as safely and quickly as possible”.

The move would be a faster-than-expected US pullout as Turkey’s offensive against the Kurds escalates.

Sky News foreign affairs editor Deborah Haynes, who is on the Turkey and Syria border, said: “The American defence secretary, speaking on Sunday morning, announced that Donald Trump had ordered all American forces in northern Syria to withdraw.

“One of the reasons for that withdrawal order is the fact that they believe the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurdish-led militia which has been closely allied with the United States, was going to be making a deal with the Syrian regime of President Assad, which is backed by Russia.

“Britain, the US and its allies are been strongly opposed to the Assad regime.”

Syrian-Kurdish officials and a war monitor say at least 14 people, including five civilians, have been killed Turkish airstrikes on a convoy.

Protesters against the ongoing Turkey-led offensive are said to be among the dead.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said the convoy, guarded by armed men, was hit Sunday when it arrived in the border town of Ras al Ain.

The town has been seized by advancing Turkish-allied forces.

A neighbourhood on the edge of the town remains in the hands of Kurdish-led fighters.

Mervan, a spokesman for the Kurdish forces, said at least 11 were killed and 74 injured but it was not clear how many were civilians.

SOHR said journalists, including foreigners, were accompanying the convoy.

Hawar, a Kurdish news agency, said one of its reporters was killed.

The attack comes after nearly 1,000 foreign IS family members escaped a Syrian camp during a Turkish offensive after IS fighters fled a prison.

President Erdogan has said the reports of escaped IS prisoners are “disinformation”, according to his country’s state-run Anadolu news agency.

IS said it was behind a car bombing on Friday in Qamishli, the largest city in Kurdish-held northern Syria, which allowed some of the thousands of IS fighters held in Syria to escape.

Their escape over the weekend came as the UN said more than 130,000 people have been displaced from the region in the four days since Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies started the offensive.

Mr Trump reacted to criticism of the US pulling its forces out of northeastern Syria by tweeting on Sunday it was “very smart” to not be involved in the fighting “for a change” – and said of the Kurds and Turkey fighting: “Let them!”

He added the US Treasury is “ready to go” with imposing “powerful sanctions” on Turkey as “there is great consensus” to impose them.

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