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Erdogan says operation in Syria has started

A Turkish army officer prepares to upload a tank from a truck to its new position on the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria, in Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019. Tensions have risen at the border between Turkey and Syria, on expectation of a Turkish military incursion into Syria. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest developments following President Donald Trump’s decision to abandon Syrian Kurdish fighters ahead of an expected Turkish offensive into northeastern Syria (all times local):

4:25 p.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced that a Turkish military operation into Syria has started.

Erdogan said on his official Twitter account Wednesday that the operation, named “Peace Spring,” has begun. He said the operation aims to eradicate “the threat of terror” against Turkey.

Earlier, Turkish television reports said Turkish jets had bombed Syrian Kurdish positions across the border from Turkey.

Turkey had long threatened an attack on the Kurdish fighters whom Ankara considers to terrorists and an extention of

Trump agreed to withdraw US troops from Syria and hand control to Turkey


4:10 p.m.

President Donald Trump is defending his decision to pull back U.S. troops from northeastern Syria, citing a focus on the “BIG PICTURE!”


Trump says “stupid endless wars, for us, are ending!” and he is “slowly & carefully” bringing U.S. troops home.

But the decision to leave Syrian Kurds — who supported the U.S. in the fight against Islamic State militants — vulnerable to a military onslaught from Turkey has been condemned by some of Trump’s staunchest Republican allies.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told “Fox & Friends” on Wednesday that such a move would be Trump’s “biggest mistake” as president.


3:35 p.m.

The U.S-backed Syrian Kurdish group is calling on Moscow to broker talks with the Syrian government in Damascus, in light of Turkey’s planned military invasion in northeastern Syria.

The Syrian Kurdish-led administration says in a statement on Wednesday that it’s responding positively to calls from Moscow encouraging the Kurds and the Syrian government to settle their difference through talks.

A Syrian Kurdish official also says they have reached out to Damascus “and other parties” ahead of the anticipated Turkish operation.

The official declined to provide details and said no agreement has been reached yet. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to reporters.

The call for talks with Damascus reflect the Kurdish forces’ desperate outreach after a partial U.S. pullback, leaving them exposed to Turkish attack.

—Sarah El Deeb in Beirut;


3:05 p.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has discussed his plans for an incursion into northeastern Syria with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Erdogan’s office said the Turkish leader told his Russian counterpart in a phone call on Wednesday that Ankara’s planned military action in the region east of the Euphrates River “will contribute to the peace and stability” and also “pave the way for a political process” in Syria.

Erdogan added that Ankara attached importance to the protection of rights and interests of the Syrian people and that Turkey “appreciated the constructive attitude” of Russia in the matter.


2:40 p.m.

Syria’s Foreign Ministry has condemned plans by Turkey to invade northeastern Syria, calling it a “blatant violation” of international law and vowing to repel the incursion with all means.

The ministry’s statement on Wednesday blamed some Kurdish groups for what is happening, saying they were used as a tool to help an alleged “American project.”

It said that Syria is ready to welcome back its “stray sons if they return to their senses,” referring to the pro-U.S. Kurdish fighters

The ministry says the announcements surrounding the planned invasion reflect Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “hostile behavior” and Ankara’s expansionist ambitions in Syria.

Turkey has been massing troops along its border with Syria ahead of an imminent military operation against the Syrian Kurdish fighters.


2:30 p.m.

Turkey’s foreign minister says his country will inform Syria, the United Nations and others about an expected Turkish incursion into northern Syria.

Mevlut Cavusoglu claims the planned foray into the region is in line with international laws concerning Turkey’s right to defend itself. He spoke during a visit to Algeria on Wednesday.

Cavusoglu says that Ankara “will provide information to the United States and other countries, including Syria, in line with international laws.”

He added that Turkey’s “only target are terrorists” in northeast Syria and that the incursion would be Ankara’s way to “contribute to Syria’s border integrity.”

Expectations of a Turkish invasion rose after President Donald Trump on Sunday abruptly announced that American troops would step aside ahead of a Turkish push.


2:25 p.m.

A spokesman for the Syrian Kurdish-led fighters says “all options are open” if Turkey invades northeastern Syria.

Kino Gabriel, a spokesman for the U.S-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, said on Wednesday that the Kurdish-led fighters will use all their capabilities to fight back.

He says the Kurdish forces are also leaving the door open for cooperation with the Syrian government or other regional powers to defend the area. He didn’t elaborate.

Gabriel says that the Syrian Kurdish-led forces control about 30% of Syria. He says there are currently no contacts with the government side.

Syrian troops, backed by Russia and Iran, have presence to the south and west of the Kurdish-held territories.


1 p.m.

The head of the Arab League says he is alarmed at Turkey’s planned military offensive into northeastern Syria, against the Syrian Kurdish fighters there.

Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in a statement on Wednesday that such an invasion would be a “blatant violation of Syria’s sovereignty and threatens Syria’s integrity.”

He added that Turkey’s planned incursion also threatens to inflame further conflicts in eastern and northern Syria, and “could allow for the revival” of the Islamic State group.

Turkey has been preparing for an attack on the Kurdish fighters in Syria whom Ankara considers terrorists allied with a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey.

This came after President Donald Trump said earlier this week the U.S. would step aside for an expected Turkish attack on Syrian Kurdish fighters, who have fought alongside Americans for years.


12:30 p.m.

Turkey’s defense minister says preparations for an expected Turkish incursion into Syria are continuing.

Hulusi Akar made the comments on Wednesday, days after President Donald Trump abruptly announced that American troops would step aside to allow for a Turkish push into northeastern Syria.

Turkey has long threatened an attack on the Kurdish fighters in Syria whom Ankara considers terrorists allied with a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey

Akar told state-run Anadolu Agency: “Our efforts concerning the offensive are continuing, the deployment, the preparations are continuing.”


11:20 a.m.

Iranian state television says the Islamic Republic has launched a surprise military drill with army special operations forces near the country’s border with Turkey.

The exercise comes amid Iran’s opposition to Turkey’s planned invasion of northern Syria against Syrian Kurdish fighters there. The Syrian Kurds were U.S. allies in the war against the Islamic State group.

The sudden Iranian drill was announced on Wednesday. The TV report says it’s overseen by Maj. Gen. Abdolrahim Mousavi, chief of Iran’s army.

However, the state TV didn’t mention the expected Turkish operation nor elaborate on the number of troops taking part in the drill in Qushchi in Iran’s Western Azerbaijan province. The area is about 620 kilometers, or 385 miles, northwest of Tehran.

Iran and Russia are both key allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s long-embattled government. Both have troops on the ground in Syria. While they may publicly oppose a Turkish incursion into Syria, they probably don’t mind an operation that diminishes the Kurdish forces.


11:10 a.m.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is accusing the United States of playing “very dangerous games” with the Syrian Kurds, whose fighters were top U.S. allies in the war against the Islamic State group in Syria.

Lavrov said during a visit to Kazakhstan on Wednesday that the U.S. first propped up the Syrian Kurdish “quasi state” in northeastern Syria and is now withdrawing its support.

He says that “such reckless attitude to this highly sensitive subject can set fire to the entire region, and we have to avoid it at any cost.” Russian news agencies carried Lavrov’s comments and reported that Moscow has communicated that position Washington.

Lavrov didn’t directly address the issue of Turkey’s anticipated invasion into northeastern Syria but said that Moscow is encouraging the Kurds and the Syrian government to settle their difference through talks.

The top Russian diplomat stressed that both Damascus and the Syrian Kurds have said they are “open to dialogue, and we will do our best to help launch talks on this subject.”


10:30 a.m.

The Kurdish-led civilian administration in northeastern Syria has issued a “general mobilization” call along the border with Turkey, as Ankara masses troops ahead of an imminent invasion.

The local authority, known as the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, says: “We call upon our people, of all ethnic groups, to move toward areas close to the border with Turkey to carry out acts of resistance during this sensitive historical time.”

It also called on the international community to live up to its responsibilities as “a humanitarian catastrophe might befall our people” in northeastern Syria.

Turkey has been preparing for an attack on the Kurdish fighters in Syria whom Ankara considers terrorists allied with a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey.

President Donald Trump on Sunday abruptly announced American troops would step aside ahead of the Turkish push — a shift in U.S. policy that essentially abandoned the Syrian Kurds, longtime U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State group.


9:40 a.m.

A top Turkish official says Turkey’s military will “shortly” cross into Syria together with allied Syrian rebel forces after President Donald Trump announced U.S. troops would withdraw from the area.

Fahrettin Altun, the Turkish presidency’s communications director, called on the international community in a Washington Post op-ed on Wednesday “to rally” behind Ankara.

Altun says Turkey seeks to “neutralize” Syrian Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria and to “liberate the local population from the yoke of the armed thugs.”

He wrote: “The Turkish military, together with the Free Syrian Army, will cross the Turkish-Syrian border shortly.”

Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish fighters, allied with American forces in the fight against IS, as terrorists linked to outlawed Kurdish rebels within Turkey.


9:30 a.m.

A U.S.-backed force and two Syrian activist groups say Islamic State militants have carried out an attack in the city of Raqqa in northern Syria.

The early Wednesday attack targeted a post of the U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in Raqqa, which was once the extremists’ de facto capital.

The attack comes as Turkey is expected to launch an offensive against the Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria.

The Kurdish fighters say IS launched three suicide attacks against its positions in Raqqa. There was no word on casualties.

Raqqa is being Silently Slaughtered, an activist collective, reported an exchange of fire and a blast.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitoring group, says the attack involved two IS fighters who engaged in a shootout before blowing themselves up.