DAMASCUS – The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) denied that Ankara-backed militants had taken control of the center of the strategic city of Ras al-Ain in northern Syria on Saturday. Ankara-backed militants claimed to have seized control of Ras al Ain’s city center in northeast Syria on Saturday, as Turkey’s offensive on Kurdish militia positions entered its fourth day.
The Turkish Defense Ministry also confirmed militants’ claim that “Ras al-Ain’s residential center has been brought under control through the successful operation in the east of the Euphrates”. But, the SDF denied the reports, stating that Turkish-backed fighters had entered one neighborhood of Ras al-Ain, the industrial district, following hours of heavy Turkish shelling that had forced a “tactical retreat” from the area.
“Now the SDF’s attack has started and very fierce clashes are underway now,” Marvan Qamishlo, an SDF military media official, told Reuters, noting, “The clashes continue in the industrial district.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also confirmed that Turkish troops have entered the town, but reported that fighting is still ongoing. Turkey’s media, meanwhile, reported that the Turkish military and allied militants have been advancing in villages around Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ain, under the cover of Turkish artillery and airstrikes.
Youssef Hamoud, the spokesman for the Ankara-backed militants, said fighters had cut off the road that links Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ain. He said in a statement to Reuters that “this advance was on a new and surprise front … between Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ain. On this front, they were able to cut the roads linking together Suluk, Tel Abyad, Ras al-Ain with the villages in the area”.
Hamoud stated on Thursday that Ras al-Ain and Tel Abyad were now surrounded after the Turkish Army aided by Ankara-backed militants seized several villages around the two towns. The two towns are among the prime objectives of the Turkish military campaign against Kurdish fighters. Turkey’s military had earlier claimed that 14 Syrian villages had been seized from Kurdish militias as part of its military operation in northeast Syria. Turkey’s Defense Ministry also announced that the number of Kurdish militants killed since the start of the military operation in northern Syria has risen to 399.
On Saturday, the Syrian Kurdish-led administration in northeastern Syria said 191,069 people have been displaced as a result of the Turkish military operation. The United Nations on Friday estimated some 100,000 people had left their homes in northern Syria since the offensive began on Wednesday. The UN World Food Programme said on Saturday that more than 100,000 people from the towns of Ras Al-Ain and Tel Abyad have been displaced by the escalation of violence in Syria.