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Turkey-backed rebels launch ‘large-scale’ assault on 3 Syrian villages, SDF says

Turkey-backed rebels on Thursday, October 24 launched an assault on three villages outside the area of Ankara’s military operations in northeast Syria, Syrian Democratic Forces spokesperson Kino Gabriel said.

“This morning, the terrorist factions with the support of the Turkish army have launched a large-scale ground assault on the villages of al-Manajir, al-Asadiyah and al-Musharifa outside the ceasefire zone,” Gabriel said on October 24.

He said the SDF remained engaged in fighting but gave no further details on the nature of the attacks or any casualties.

“SDF will exercise its right to legitimate self defense and we are not responsible for the violation of the agreement,” said Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF press office.

Al-Manajir and Al-Asadiyah are just south of the border crossing at Tel Abyad while Mushayrifah lies further to the east and is north of Tel Tamer and the critical M4 highway.

Gabriel said the three villages are outside a 30-km buffer zone that Turkey has agreed with the United States and Russia and that the SDF has apparently conceded.

A twitter account attributed to SDF commander General Mazlum Abdi called on the “guarantors of the ceasefire” to “rein in” Turkey and stop the operation.

Turkey’s armed forces have not commented on the SDF claims.

Last Thursday, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announced that Turkey would temporarily halt its assault on northeast Syria in order to give the SDF time to withdraw from the Syria-Turkey border. On Tuesday, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin announced a separate agreement for joint patrols in the area to enforce the SDF pullback.

Russia-Turkey map of northeast Syria
Control of northeast Syria under the Russia-Turkey memorandum of understanding agreed on October 22, 2019. Image: Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation

The scale of the “Operation Peace Spring area” is unclear, although Russia’s ministry of defense published a map to accompany the Memorandum of Understanding between Turkey and Russia. The MoU insists YPG fighters must leave a 30-km area along the entire length of the Syria-Turkey border within days. The SDF has said it will only pull back from the area between Ras al-Ayn and Tel Abyad.

Earlier on Thursday, Russia said the YPG had begun withdrawing from the border.

“We note with satisfaction that the agreements reached in Sochi are being implemented,” Interfax reported Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin as saying. “Everything is being implemented.”

Turkey and affiliated Syrian rebel groups fighting under the banner of the Syrian National Army launched Operation Peace Spring on October 9 with the goal of driving the SDF and its component People’s Protection Units (YPG) out of the area along the Syria-Turkey border.

Ankara considers the mostly-Kurdish YPG to be an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency inside Turkey. The YPG is a core component of the SDF, which was the main U.S. partner in the fight against Islamic State in Syria.

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