Live Updates: Russia Moves Into Syrian Territory Abandoned by U.S.

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Russian and Syrian national flags flutter on military vehicles near Manbij, Syria October 15, 2019. Credit: \ OMAR SANADIKI/ REUTERS

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The United States said its forces had left the key northern Syrian city of Manbij on Tuesday as the Syrian regime made territorial gains in the region and Russian troops moved into flashpoint areas, vowing to prevent clashes between Turkey and Syrian forces. 

The Syrian military's deployment near the Turkish border comes after Syrian Kurdish forces previously allied with the U.S. said they had reached a deal with President Bashar Assad's government to help them fend off Turkey's invasion.

A Russian presidential envoy to Syria said on Tuesday that Moscow had brokered the deal between the Kurds and the Assad government - and that Russia would not let a Turkey-Syria clash happen. Speaking during a Putin visit to the UAE, Sergei Lavrantiev said Damascus and Ankara were in "real-time dialogue."

The rapidly changing situation was set in motion last week, when U.S. President Donald Trump ordered American troops in northern Syria to step aside, clearing the way for an attack by Turkey, which regards the Kurdish fighters as terrorists. Faced with unrelenting criticism, Trump said Monday he was putting new sanctions on Turkey, halting trade negotiations and raising steel tariffs in an effort to pressure Ankara to stop its offensive. Vice President Mike Pence also said Trump was sending him to the Middle East because the president was concerned about instability in the region.

12:40 The Syrian army has taken control of military bases in northern Syria left behind by U.S. forces, according to Russian state TV. 

02:34 A.M. Trump to meet U.S. lawmakers on Syria at White House on Wednesday

Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters fire a heavy machine-gun towards Kurdish fighters, in Syria's northern region of Manbij on October 14, 2019.Credit: AP Photo

The Republican and Democratic leaders of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, as well as the congressional foreign affairs and armed services committees are to meet with President Donald Trump at the White House on Wednesday to discuss the situation in Syria, congressional aides said on Tuesday.

Those invited include the Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the chairman and ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs Committees, as well as the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, the sources said.

01:10 A.M. U.S. lawmakers set measure opposing Trump on Syria troop withdrawal

U.S. Democratic lawmakers, joined by some of President Donald Trump's fellow Republicans, introduced a resolution on Tuesday opposing Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, the latest sign of deep disapproval in Congress of his action.

"We have always maintained that, while certainly needed, a sanctions package alone is insufficient for reversing this humanitarian disaster," House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement introducing the resolution.

A Turkish-backed Syrian fighter peeks from a hole during clashes with Syrian Democratic Forces in Ras al Ayn, October 14, 2019.Credit: Nazeer Al-khatib / AFP

12:05 A.M. Putin invites Erdogan to Russia as Turkey advances in Syria

Russia's president Vladimir Putin spoke with Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan about Syria by phone and invited him to visit Russia in the next few days, the Kremlin said late on Tuesday. Putin and Erdogan agreed to ensure Syria's territorial integrity.

"The invitation has been accepted," the Kremlin said in a statement.

The leaders also discussed the need to avoid possible conflicts between Turkish and Syrian military, according to the statement.

11:59 P.M. Erdogan says Turkey will never declare ceasefire in northern Syria

President Tayyip Erdogan told U.S. President Donald Trump that Turkey will never declare a ceasefire in northeastern Syria, and added that he was not worried about U.S. sanctions over Ankara's offensive, broadcaster NTV reported on Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters on a flight back from Baku, Erdogan said talks with Washington and Moscow on Syria's Kobani and Manbij towns continued, and added it was "not negative" for the Syrian army to enter Manbij as long as militants in the area were cleared, NTV said.

He also said he told Trump that Turkey would "not negotiate with a terrorist organisation" in response to Trump's mediation offer.

11:51 P.M. U.S. Senator Graham says he will introduce Turkey sanctions bill on Thursday

Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham said on Tuesday he will introduce a bill on Thursday sanctioning Turkey for its invasion of northern Syria.

"I will be introducing sanctions against Turkey Thursday and I do appreciate what the (Trump) administration has done against Turkey through executive action but more to follow," Graham told reporters.

10:49 P.M. U.S. military aircraft carries out 'show of force' in Syria after Turkish-backed forces came close to American troops

U.S. military aircraft carried out a "show of force" in Syria after Turkish-backed fighters came in close proximity to American forces during a Turkish offensive into northeastern Syria, a U.S. official told Reuters.

The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said U.S. military aircraft were flown over the area after troops in northeastern Syria felt the Turkish-backed fighters were too close. The Turkish-backed fighters dispersed after the show of force, the official said.

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

10:55 P.M. Pence will urge Syria ceasefire in Thursday meeting with Turkey's Erdogan

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will meet with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday in Ankara, where he will urge Turkey to reach an immediate ceasefire in Syria and to work towards a negotiated settlement, the White House said on Tuesday.

"Vice President Pence will reiterate President Trump's commitment to maintain punishing economic sanctions on Turkey until a resolution is reached," the White House said in a statement.

10:03 P.M. Russian defense chief speaks with U.S. counterpart

Russia's defense minister has had a phone call with his U.S. counterpart to discuss the developments in Syria.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has spoken to U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper to discuss "issues of mutual interest in the context of the situation in Syria," the Russian Defense Ministry said in a terse statement. It didn't offer any details.

8:23 P.M. Kremlin envoy says Turkish military must not stay in Syria

Russia's presidential envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, said that Turkey has no right to deploy its forces in Syria permanently.

Speaking to journalists in Abu Dhabi about the Turkish military operation in Syria, he said that, according to earlier agreements, Turkish military can only cross into Syria and go 5-10 kilometres into its territory.

He said that Moscow does not approve the operation.

7:56 P.M. Pompeo speak to Iraqi president

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Iraqi President Barham Salih to discuss the Turkish military incursion into Syria and the U.S. desire for the offensive to end immediately, according to a State Department summary of the phone call released on Tuesday.

The summary said Pompeo "also condemned the recent violence in Iraq and noted that those who violate human rights and commit acts of violence and intimidation against the media should be held accountable."

7:35 P.M. U.S. to push diplomacy in bid to halt Syria attacks

The United States plans to focus on a diplomatic push for a ceasefire in Syria, a senior U.S. State Department official told reporters on Tuesday as Turkey pressed on with its assault on northern Syria and ignored the threat of U.S. sanctions.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the Trump administration would continue pressuring Turkey as the United States evaluated the situation, adding that sanctions could increase if the crisis is not resolved.

7:20 P.M. United States says it still controls airspace in northeast Syria

A senior U.S. State Department official said the United States still controls the airspace in northeast Syria, adding that all U.S. troops are out of the key city of Manbij. 

Earlier, it was reported that Russian troops began patrolling the front lines in Manbij, keeping Turkish and Syrian army positions separated.

6:54 P.M. MSF (Doctors without Borders) suspends all activities in northeast Syria, evacuating all international staff 

6:49 P.M. French FM calls for anti-ISIS coalition meeting 

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has called for a meeting of the international coalition against the Islamic State group, including the United States and Turkey, to discuss the situation in northeast Syria.

Le Drian said he will travel soon to Iraq to meet with key actors in the region, including Kurdish leaders. France is still dialoguing with Syria's Kurds, who were key allies in a U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, he said.

"There's some trouble" in the relationship between the European Union and the U.S., Le Drian acknowledged. "That is why the coalition needs to meet." He called on both the United States and Turkey to take their responsibilities and tell allies how they intend to keep fighting ISIS.

6:05 P.M. Hungary backs Turkish offensive

Hungary's conservative nationalist government voiced its support of Turkey' offensive in Syria.

"Our interest is to avoid the appearance of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of illegal migrants at our border," Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said after meeting his Turkish counterpart in Azerbaijan, according to the state news agency MTI.

6:00 P.M. Assad troops make territorial gains in Manbij

Syrian forces have taken control of an area of more than 1,000 square kilometres around the northeastern Syrian town of Manbij, the Interfax news agency reported, citing the Russian Ministry of Defence.

Syria's army has taken control of the Tabqa military airfield, two hydroelectric power plants and several bridges across the Euphrates river, the ministry was quoted as saying.

5:09 P.M. Special Haaretz report from Syria: Desperate Kurds see only enemies around them

QAMISHLI, Syria — It’s 9 P.M. and pitch black. On the M4 highway connecting the towns Tal Tamr and Qamishli, a checkpoint held by Kurdish forces is lit up like a Christmas tree. Cones on the asphalt lead in to the crossing. 

But this checkpoint is now vacant. A pickup truck rushes at full speed: The Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units, the YPG, vacate their positions. “We’re leaving, the regime is coming,” one of them whispers through the window.

This was the moment the country’s destiny was seemingly changed forever... Read the full story here

4:52 P.M. Russia moves to buffer between Turkey and Assad troops in northern Syria

Russia moved to fill the void left by the United States in northern Syria, deploying troops Tuesday to keep apart advancing Syrian government and Turkish forces. 

Outside Manbij, Russian troops began patrolling front lines between Turkish and Syrian army positions to keep them separated, Russia's Defense Ministry said...Read the full story here 

4:21 P.M. Qatar, Hamas defend Turkish incursion into Syria

Qatar defended Turkey and its military campaign in northern Syria on Tuesday, with Doha saying its ally's operations are aimed at confronting "an imminent threat" to Ankara's security.

Hamas also backed Turkey's right to defend its border in a statement Monday, saying the group rejects the "Zionist and American presence in the region" and affirms "the unity and territorial integrity of the state of Syria..." Read the full story here

4:09 P.M. Britain suspends arms exports to Turkey pending review

The British government will suspend export licences for weapons that could be used by Turkey during its military incursion into northern Syria, pending a review of arms exports to the country, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Tuesday.

Raab said his government will keep Britain's defence exports to Turkey "under very careful and continual review."

"No further export licences to Turkey for items which might be used in military operations in Syria will be granted while we conduct that review," he said.

Speaking in London on Tuesday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he was also "deeply concerned about the consequences" of Turkey's action.

He said it was "extremely important" for the international community not to jeopardize the gains it has made against Islamic State in Syria.

3:55 P.M. UN says 190,000 have fled since Turkish offensive began in Syria

The number of people who have been uprooted since Turkey launched its incursion in north-eastern Syria last week has risen to 190,000, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said. The displaced people include 70,000 children, according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

At a press briefing of UN agencies in Geneva, a World Food Programme (WFP) spokesman said his agency stands ready to supply 450,000 people in north-eastern Syria with five-day food rations. So far, 83,000 people have received these packages.

3:22 P.M. Russia says it won't 'allow' Turkey, Syria clash

A Russian envoy for Syria says that Moscow will not allow Turkish and Syrian government forces to clash, underscoring his country's role as de facto power broker in the conflict amid a U.S. pullout.

Alexander Lavrentyev, presidential envoy for Syria, told Russian state news agencies on Tuesday that "no one is interested" in potential fighting between Syrian government troops and Turkish forces that entered Syria last week. Lavrentyev said Russia "is not going to allow it."

Lavrentyev also denied reports saying that Moscow has given the green light to Turkey's operation in Syria and insisted that Russia "has always thought that any military operation in Syria is unacceptable."

3:12 P.M. U.S. forces 'out of Manbij'

The U.S.-led coalition said its forces left Manbij in northern Syria on Tuesday, after state media said the Syrian army had entered the town.

3:10 P.M. How Assad won Syria, despite it all

Obama, Netanyahu and Erdogan all allowed the Syrian president to survive and ultimately, with a lot of help from Russia and Iran, murder his way to victory - explains Haaretz's Anshel Pfeffer

2:36 P.M. Russian envoy says Turkish invasion "unacceptable," but that Moscow will not allow Turkey-Syria clash to happen

Alexander Lavrentiev, Russian President Vladimir Putin's envoy for Syria,who was speaking to reporters in Abu Dhabi during an official visit there by Putin, said Damascus and Ankara were in "real-time dialogue," according to official news agency Interfax.

Lavrentiev also confirmed that Russia had brokered an agreement between the Syrian government and Kurdish forces. (Reuters)

2:19 P.M. NATO, Germany, U.K. express concern over consequences of Turkish invasion for fight against ISIS 

"I'm concerned about the consequences for the gains we have made in fighting our common enemy Daesh," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had similar statements. (AP and Reuters)

1:50 P.M. UN says 160,000 displaced by Turkish offensive

Most are fleeing south, a spokesperson from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said. (AP)

A previous figure from the Kurdish-led regional authority said the number was up to 275,000.

1:36 P.M. Russian soldiers coordinating with Turkish army in Manbij region, Moscow says

The Russian defense ministry also confirmed its Syrian army ally was still in full control of the city, according to state news agency Interfax, contradicting Turkish claims most of the city was in the hands of Kurdish militants. (Reuters)

1:33 P.M. One Turkish soldier, 15 Kurdish militants killed as Manbij fighting heats up

One Turkish soldier was killed and eight others were wounded on Tuesday after an attack by Kurdish fighters from the northern Syrian town of Manbij, Turkey's defence ministry said, adding that at least 15 fighters had been "neutralised" in retaliation.

In a statement, the defence ministry said Kurdish fighters launched a mortar attack from Manbij. Turkish forces launched retaliatory fire to the area where the attack came from and "neutralised" at least 15 of the fighters, it said. (Reuters)

1:25 P.M. Turkey holds 1,000 sq. kilometers of territory in northeast Syria, Erdogan says

Leader made the claim at a Turkic-speaking nations summit in Baku, Azerbaijan, where he asked for "strong solidarity." (AP)

1:05 P.M. UN urges Turkey to probe 'executions' in Syria

Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged Turkey to investigate "summary executions" that could have been committed by the Turkish-backed Ahrar al-Sharqiya armed group.

He cited videos widely shared on social media of militants filming themselves capturing and executing three Kurdish captives on a highway in northern Syria on Saturday.

Turkey "could be deemed responsible" for violations committed by armed groups over which it has "effective control," Colville said. (AP)

12:28 P.M. "It is our duty to help the Kurds," Israel's Chief Rabbi tells Reuven Rivlin

During the president's annual Sukkot visit to Israel's Chief Rabbi, David Lau told Israel's President Rivlin it was a "moral duty to act immediately and before it is too late," according to an official statement.

"Our hearts are now with the Kurdish people who are in danger of mass destruction," the religious leader said, after pointing out the holiday was "a symbol of unity and peace not only among the people of Israel, but also among the nations of the world." (Haaretz)

12:26 P.M. Turkey detains four Kurdish mayors in dawn raids

Four pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) mayors of Kurdish-majority districts near Turkey's borders with Syria and Iraq, were detained over terrorism links in dawn raids, HDP and Turkey's Anadolu state news agency said on Tuesday, without elaborating.

Most of Turkey's opposition parties have backed the Turkish operation in northeast Syria, but the HDP, which Erdogan's government says has links to the PKK, has called for it to stop. The HDP said 151 of its members, including district officials, had been detained over the past week. (Reuters)

12:24 P.M. More than 275,000 people displaced by Turkish offensive, Syrian regional authority says

In a statement released on Tuesday, Kurdish-led authorities in northeast Syria added the number includes more than 70,000 children. (Reuters)

11:57 A.M. Syrian troops enter Manbij, state TV says

Syrian government troops have deployed inside the northern city of Manbij, Syria's Ikhbariya state TV says. The broadcast shows what it says are residents of Manbij celebrating the arrival of government troops. (Reuters)

10:45 A.M. Turkish, Kurdish forces battle for border town in northeast

An Associated Press journalist reports heavy bombardment of targets in the countryside of Ras al Ayn, days after Turkey announced that it had captured the border town. Turkish jets also carried out at least one airstrike. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, reported Kurdish fighters had retaken the town. A Turkish military official denied reports that Turkey had begun an assault on the Kurdish-held town of Manbij, without giving further detail.

Meanwhile, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan defended Turkey's offensive in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, calling on the international community to support the initiative or "begin admitting refugees" from Syria. (AP)

10:32 A.M. China urges Turkey to halt military action in Syria

Turkey should stop military action in Syria and “come back to the right track,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily briefing. (Reuters)

08:00 A.M. Trump's retreat from Syria is already changing the Mideast for worse

And Israel should beware, says Haaretz's Amos Harel. Read the full analysis here

Previous analyses and op-eds:

Trump's Syria withdrawal is a strategic disaster for Netanyahu

Turkey’s war on the Kurds: Quick conquest or quagmire?

Kurdish leader: Trump just stuck a knife in the back of America's brothers-in-arms

Why Russia is the big winner from Trump's Syria pullback and Ukraine turmoil

What's driving Turkey’s Syrian fighters' brutal assault on the Kurds