Turkey is apparently gaining ground in its offensive in northern Syria. Together with allied units, the Turkish military has meanwhile encircled the border towns of Ras al Ain and Tel Abjad. This was stated by a spokesman for the militia National Army, which supports the Turkish military in the fight against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) led by the Kurdish militia YPG.
In both cities, which are under the control of the Syrian-Kurdish SDF, predominantly Arab Syrians live. The places are an important goal of the Turkish leadership, hoping that the local Arab population will renounce the Kurdish regional administration. Previously, Turkish ground forces and National Army fighters had taken control of several villages around the cities, the spokesman said.
Turkey had begun on Wednesday with its long-threatened offensive in northern Syria. The aim of the offensive is the Kurdish militia YPG, which controls a large area on the Syrian side of the border. Turkey sees in it an offshoot of the banned Kurdish workers' party PKK in Turkey and thus a terrorist organization. It wants to set up a so-called security zone along the border and to settle there Syrian refugees who currently live in Turkey.
At least 60,000 displaced people in 36 hours
In the first 36 hours since the start of the offensive at least 60,000 people have been expelled, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Their information on refugees is based on estimates, there was no independent confirmation for this number. Also, since the beginning of the offensive activists have been killed at least 15 civilians.
Internationally, the military operation triggers massive criticism. The Federal Government and several EU states called for an immediate stop to the offensive. A new escalation is feared in the Syrian civil war, which has been raging for over eight years, and a further destabilization of the region. There is growing concern about what happens to imprisoned supporters of the Islamic State. At present, tens of thousands of IS prisoners are held in camps by SDF fighters.
Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has responded to the criticisms with clear words. He threatened the Europeans with a wave of refugees - should they present the military operation as an invasion. "We will open the doors and 3.6 million people will come to you," Erdogan said in Ankara.