Oct. 14 (UPI) — Syrian government troops were heading to the country’s northern border on Monday to “confront Turkish aggression” after making a deal with the U.S.-allied, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, officials said.
The SDF said President Bashar al-Assad’s forces were to help it secure the Turkish-Syrian border as the Turkish military has been moving through northern Syria since Wednesday to repel the area of Kurdish forces it views as terrorists.
“In order to prevent and block this assault, agreement has been reached with the Syrian government whose duty is to protect the borders and Syrian sovereignty, for the Syrian army to enter and deploy along the length of the Syrian-Turkish border,” the SDF said in a statement announcing the deal it had made with the Assad regime.
The deal was the product of three days of Russian negotiating between Syria and the SDF who feel discarded by its long-time ally United States after U.S. President Donald Trump gave Turkey his tacit approval for Operation Peace Spring last week when he removed troops from the region.
It was unknown what the SDF has offered the Iranian- and Russian-backed al-Assad regime in return.
Since fighting began Wednesday, at least 59 civilians have been killed, including 21 children, reported the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The deal was announced as Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Sunday on CBS News’ Face the Nation that Trump has ordered all U.S. troops to withdraw from Syria.
As clashes between invading Turkish-led forces and Kurdish fighters intensified, the Kurdish administration in Syria said 785 people affiliated with the Islamic State escaped from a camp holding about 12,000 displaced people, including women and children.
Esper said approximately 1,000 U.S. troops in northern Syria will leave “as safely and quickly as possible,” adding they would not leave the country entirely but would move south of Turkey’s attacks.
“We want to make sure we deconflict a pullback of forces. We want to make sure we don’t leave equipment behind. So I’m not prepared to put a timeline on it, but that’s our general gameplan,” he said.
Esper said he was aware of the reported escapes and execution of some Kurdish allies of the United States.
“It’s terrible. It’s a terrible situation. We condemn it. We have condemned it,” he said on CBS. “It’s — these are justice things that we told the Turks would happen and play out. Who’s conducting it, it’s unclear at this point and time. There are Turkish regular forces and there are Turkish proxy forces.”
After Turkish forces shelled the Ain Issa area, a riot broke out at the camp among 249 women and 700 children who formerly were part of the “caliphate,” The Guardian reported.
Jelal Ayaf, the co-chair of the camp’s management, said sleeper cells within the civilian section attacked the remaining guards who had not fled.
Mustafa Bali, the head spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, tweeted a picture purportedly of IS members fleeing the base, stating “almost all” have escaped.
“If the world seriously consider [IS] as a threat to their security, which I am 100 percent sure is not the case, there is a great opportunity to prove it. Otherwise, we will face the consequences all together very soon. But this time there may not be someone to do the work for them,” he said, referring to the SDF who have been fighting IS alongside the United States for years in Syria.
Ain Issa has served as headquarters for the Kurdish administration and is positioned beside the M4 highway, which is used to transport aid to parts of northeastern Syria.
Trump on Sunday said it was “very smart” not to be involved in the conflict in Syria, adding that he was working with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and other members of Congress about imposing sanctions on Turkey.
“Treasury is ready to go, additional legislation may be sought. There is great consensus on this,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Trump noted that the “Kurds and Turkey have been fighting for many years. Turkey considers the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] the worst terrorists of all. Others may want to come in and fight for one side or the other. Let them! We are monitoring the situation closely. Endless Wars!”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday said that the military operation in Syria would continue until the Kurdish forces are driven away from Turkey’s borders.
The Turkish Ministry of National Defense said the mission has been “successful” in securing control of the area 21 miles from the Syrian-Turkey border to the M-4 highway.
In doing so, it “neutralized” 525 Kurdish forces since fighting began, it said.
SOHR said Monday the civilian death toll continued to rise after Turkish warplanes targeted a humanitarian support convoy that included journalists headed to Al-Hasakah, killing at least 15 people, including nine Kurdish fighters.
The SDF said in a statement that the convoy was “directly and brutally targeted.”
The Kurdish Red Crescent reported 11 civilians were killed and more than 74 injured in Ras al-Ain Serekaniye, just south of the Syrian-Turkey border.
“Our hospital in Tel Tamr has no more capacity for all of them and we have sent many to other hospitals and we expect that the number of martyrs will be increased,” the humanitarian nonprofit organization said in a statement that accompanied photos of a seemingly packed hospital where people were receiving care in hallways.
Over 200,000 people have been displaced, Kurdish Red Crescent said, which is a more than two-fold increase from the 70,000 reported following the first day of fighting.
The organization said its humanitarian work is in jeopardy as the situation deteriorates. On Sunday, two ambulances were hijacked and their crew members were kidnapped.
“We do not yet know the fate of the four crew,” it said.
In response, the U.N. World Food Programme said it is planning assistance for upwards of 400,000 people who may require help, including ready-to-eat meals and nutritional supplies.
In a statement, senior U.N. WFP spokesman Herve Verhoosel said he expects the number of displaced people to increase in the coming days.
“WFP is pre-positioning ready-to-eat meals, nutritional supplies and food rations to respond to immediate needs of people who have had to flee their areas,” he said.