Trump Says Kurds Are 'Not Angels' as House Overwhelmingly Condemns Syria Withdrawal

Russian troops move into Syrian territory abandoned by U.S. ■ Erdogan: 'There will be no ceasefire ... We are not worried about any sanctions' ■ Assad forces make territorial gains near Manbij following pact with Kurds ■ More than 190,000 people displaced

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Baku, Azerbaijan, Octber 14, 2019.Credit: ,AP

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U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are set to leave for Ankara Wednesday to discuss a ceasefire in northeast Syria, as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vows to press ahead with Tukey's offensive despite American sanctions and growing international criticism.

"They say 'declare a ceasefire'. We will never declare a ceasefire," Erdogan told reporters after a visit to Azerbaijan. "They are pressuring us to stop the operation. They are announcing sanctions. Our goal is clear. We are not worried about any sanctions." The Turkish president also made clear he does not intend to meet Pence or Pompeo when they arrive in Turkey, but later clarified he would meet the U.S. vice president. 

U.S. President Donald Trump's unexpected decision to withhold protection from Syria's Kurds after a phone call with Erdogan a week ago swiftly upended five years of U.S. policy on Syria. As well as clearing the way for the Turkish incursion, the U.S. withdrawal gives a free hand to Syrian President Bashar Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies in the world's deadliest ongoing war.

02.00 A.M. Assad forces enter Kobane

Syrian forces on Wednesday night rolled into the strategic border town of Kobani, blocking one path for the Turkish military to establish a "safe zone" free of Syrian Kurdish fighters along the frontier as part of its week-old offensive.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 44

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The seizure of Kobani by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad also pointed to a dramatic shift in northeastern Syria: The town was where the United States military and Kurdish fighters first united to defeat the Islamic State group four years ago and holds powerful symbolism for Syrian Kurds and their ambitions of self-rule.

The convoys of government forces drove into Kobani after dark, a resident said. The resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, was one of the few remaining amid fears of a Turkish attack on the town. Syria's state-run media confirmed its troops entered the town. (AP)

00.42 P.M. White House releases Trump letter to Erdogan

U.S. President Donald Trump warned Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in a letter about Turkey's incursion into Syria, "Don't be a tough guy" and "Don't be a fool!" The October 9 letter was released by the White House on Wednesday as Trump battled to control the political damage following his decision to pull U.S. troops out of northern Syria. 

"Let's work out a good deal!" Trump said. "You don't want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don't want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy - and I will." 

Trump had the letter released to bolster his view that he did not give Turkey a green light to invade Syria. "I have worked hard to solve some of your problems. Don't let the world down. You can make a great deal," said Trump in the letter. 

11:23 P.M. Pelosi says Trump had 'meltdown' over House vote on Syria

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democratic leaders' White House meeting was cut short after Republican President Donald Trump had a "meltdown" over a House of Representatives vote condemning his Syria withdrawal. Trump was insulting to Pelosi and the meeting deteriorated into a diatribe by Trump, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters.

"What we witnessed on the part of the president was a meltdown. Sad to say," Pelosi told reporters as she and the other Democrats emerged from the White House.

The Democratic leader said Trump had a temper tantrum because of the number of Republicans who joined Democrats to vote for a resolution condemning the president's decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northeastern Syria, clearing the way for Turkey's offensive against U.S.-allied Syrian Kurds.

10:22 P.M. House of Representatives passes bipartisan resolution condemning Syria withdrawal, report says

The House of Representatives approved a bipartisan resolution to condemn U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to pull out American troops from Syria, the New York Times reported on Wednesday evening. 

The resolution, which passed on a vote of 354-60, came as Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are set to depart for Ankara to push for a cease-fire in the Turkish offensive against Syrian Kurds in the country's northeast.

“At President Trump’s hands, American leadership has been laid low, and American foreign policy has become nothing more than a tool to advance his own interests,” said Representative Eliot L. Engel of New York, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee who introduced the largely symbolic bill to congress. “Today we make clear that the Congress is a coequal branch of government and we want nothing to do with this disastrous policy.”

Syrian government forces arrive in the town of Tal Tamr, not far from the flashpoint Kurdish Syrian town of Ras al-Ain on the border with Turkey, October 15, 2019.Credit: AFP

9:11 P.M. U.S.-led coalition says forces have left Syrian cities of Raqqa, Tabqah, Lafarge factory

The U.S.-led coalition said that its forces had left the Syrian cities of Tabqah and Raqqa as well as a Lafarge cement factory as part of the withdrawal from northeast Syria.

"Coalition forces continue a deliberate withdrawal from northeast Syria. On October 16, we vacated the Lafarge Cement Factory, Raqqa, and Tabqah," coalition spokesman Colonel Myles B. Caggins said on Twitter.

7:35 P.M. Republican lawmakers introduce Turkey sanctions bill in Congress

Lawmakers from President Donald Trump's Republican Party have introduced a bill to impose sanctions on Turkey, which would target Ankara's highest-ranking government officials and the military.

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

The draft legislation also calls for additional sanctions on Turkey over its purchase of the Russian S-400 air defence system and orders a halt to visas for certain Turkish government officials.

The legislation further wants a report on the personal wealth of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

7:15 P.M. Iraqi president holds security talks with U.S. diplomat

Iraqi President Barham Saleh has discussed the situation in northern Syria with a visiting U.S. official and said they had focused on ways of preventing Islamic State militants from taking advantage of the chaos to rise again.

A statement by Saleh's office said he spoke in Baghdad with David Schenker, a U.S. assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, about ways of supporting Iraq to preserve its security "amid the current challenges."

The statement said both officials said the extremists should not be given a chance "to revive their criminal activities and threaten the region and world's security."

6:59 P.M. Trump says the area of northern Syria 'has nothing to do with us'

U.S. President Donald Trump said the disputed area in northern Syria "has nothing to do with" the United States as he distanced himself from the conflict there.

"Our soldiers are not in harm's way, as they shouldn't be, as two countries fight over land that has nothing to do with us. And the Kurds are much safer right now," Trump said, apparently referring to the Russian and Syrian governments moving into territory.

6:11 P.M. Trump downplays Turkish offensive in Syria, says Kurds are 'not angels'

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

President Donald Trump played down the crisis in Syria touched off by Turkey's incursion against U.S.-allied Kurdish forces, saying the conflict was between Turkey and Syria and that it was "fine" for Russia to help Damascus.

Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House, said imposing U.S. sanctions on Turkey would be better than fighting in the region and that it was up to the countries there to work it out.

The Kurds are "not angels," Trump said.

5:04 P.M. Erdogan says Turkish offensive will end if Syrian Kurds leave border area

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey's military operation in Syria will end only if Syrian Kurdish fighters lay down their weapons and leave the border area.

The offensive can only cease if "all terrorists drop their weapons ... and leave the safe zone which we have determined as soon as tonight," Erdogan told members of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in parliament.

He was referring to a 444-kilometre-long buffer zone along Turkey's border with Syria up to Iraq, and 32 kilometres deep into Syrian territory.

4:41 P.M.  Can NATO Members Kick Turkey Out of the Military Alliance? | Explained

4:07 P.M. Russian forces reach area outside Kobani in northern Syria, the Syrian Observatory says

Russian forces have crossed the Euphrates river in northern Syria and reached areas outside the city of Kobani, pushing eastward with Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Syrian Observatory said on Wednesday.

The troop movement comes days after the SDF cut a deal with the Syrian government for army troops to deploy at the border following a Turkish invasion of northeast Syria last week.

The SDF could not be immediately reached for comment.

4:03 P.M. Pompeo says plans to meet Erdogan 'face-to-face'

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence expect to meet with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan when they travel to Turkey this week.

Pompeo, in an interview on Fox Business Network, said the U.S. delegation was planning to leave later on Wednesday and that the goal was to find a resolution to situation in Syria, not break the U.S.-Turkey relationship.

3:45 P.M. Erdogan clarifies he will meet with Pence

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in Ankara after all, his communications director Fahrettin Altun clarifies.

Erdogan will not receive a U.S. delegation that is visiting Ankara on Wednesday, Altun tweeted. But the president will meet the visiting team led by Pence on Thursday, he added. 

2:33 P.M. Syrian Army soldiers enter Raqaa

A group of Syrian soldiers have entered the city of Raqqa and begun setting up some observation posts, pro-Damascus al-Mayadeen TV reported.

The report came days after Kurdish-led forces, who seized the city from Islamic State in 2017, cut a deal with the Syrian government for army troops to deploy at the border.

2:16 P.M. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he will not meet with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, but that Pence will be meeting with his Turkish counterpart. "When Trump comes I will meet with him," Erdogan told Sky News.  

2:03 P.M. Erdogan to reevaluate upcoming U.S. visit

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that he would decide whether to go ahead with a planned visit next month to the United States after meetings with an American delegation in Turkey this week.

Speaking to reporters in parliament, Erdogan said he would re-evaluate the trip because "arguments, debates, conversations being held in Congress regarding my person, my family and my minister friends are a very big disrespect" to the Turkish government.

Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump are due to meet in Washington on Nov. 13.

Separately, Erdogan also described Tuesday's move by U.S. prosecutors to charge Turkey's Halkbank with evading U.S. sanctions on Iran as an "unlawful, ugly step."

1:14 P.M. Turkey tells Kurds to leave northeast Syria by 'tonight'

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Syrian Kurdish fighters must leave a designated border area in northeast Syria "as of tonight" for Turkey to stop its military offensive.

Erdogan made the comments in Parliament amid pressure for him to call a cease-fire and halt its incursion into Syria, now into its eighth day.

Erdogan made clear Turkey would not bow to pressure and would press ahead with the military operation until Turkish troops reach a depth of some 30 or 35 kilometer inside Syria.

12:24 P.M. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to meet with U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien shortly

12:21 P.M. Turkey cracks down on opposition to Syria incursion

Turkish authorities have arrested 24 people for spreading "black propaganda" on social media about Ankara's military operation in Syria, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.

Since the start of the operation, authorities have carried out a widespread crackdown on individuals criticising the Turkish operation, launching investigations against hundreds of people, including Kurdish lawmakers.

While most of Turkey's opposition parties have backed the operation, the pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) has called for an end to what it describes it as an "invasion attempt". Prosecutors launched an investigation against the HDP's co-chairs over their comments.

11:31 A.M. Russia says it will push for agreement between Syria, Kurds

Russia will encourage Syria's government and Kurdish forces to reach agreements and implement them following a Turkish operation in Syria's northeast, the RIA news agency cited Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying.

Lavrov said the Turkish operation had allowed captured Islamic State fighters to escape. He added that Moscow would support security cooperation between Turkish and Syrian forces along their border.

9:39 A.M. Assad forces, SDF, Turkish-backed rebels clash in Ain Issa

At least two Syrian army soldiers were killed when a Turkish shell fell overnight Tuesday on a post they were manning in north-east Syria, a war monitor said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said the soldiers were killed when Turkish troops and their allies shelled an area east of Ain Issa, where clashes were also raging between Turkish forces and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

The clashes led to the death of nine SDF fighters as well as 21 Turkish-backed rebels, the observatory said.

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

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.

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.

Tuesday, 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.

Tuesday, 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.

Tuesday, 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.

Tuesday, 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

Tuesday, 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 

Tuesday, 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.

Tuesday, 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.

Tuesday, 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.

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Previous analyses and op-eds:

Trump's retreat from Syria is already changing the Mideast for worse, and Israel should beware

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