RAS AL-AIN, SYRIA – Thousands demonstrated on Sunday in a predominantly Kurdish area on the Syrian border with Turkey against threats of an offensive issued the day before by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Ankara had reiterated on Saturday an oft-repeated threat to launch an “air and ground” operation in Syria against a Kurdish militia it deems a terrorist group.
Erdogan has said that his country’s patience was wearing thin after Turkish and American officials agreed in August to establish a buffer zone meant to separate the Turkish border from Kurdish territories in northern Syria.
“Down with Erdogan,” “Down with the occupation,” chanted protesters amassed on the border near the town of Ras al-Ain, an AFP correspondent said.
Protestors marched several kilometers to reach a base near Tel Arqam, held by the U.S.-led international coalition which is allied with Kurdish-led forces against Islamic State (IS) jihadis, the correspondent added.
“We will not abandon our land and we will stay here but we do not want war,” said Ahmed Mohamed Salem, a 52-year-old protester.
Erdogan had reiterated the threat of an offensive on Saturday.
“We’ve made our preparations, completed our operation plans, given the necessary instructions,” Erdogan said during a televised speech, adding that the offensive could start “as soon as today, tomorrow.
Kurdish authorities decried Erdogan’s comments, insisting on Saturday that the “international community (must) put pressure on Turkey to stop it from carrying out any aggression.
In the areas of Ras al-Ain, Tal Abyad and Kobane, all bordering Turkey, local forces have dug trenches and tunnels in preparation for a Turkish offensive, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said on Sunday.
In mid September, the U.S.-led coalition had said that “good progress” was being made in implementing the buffer zone.
The zone was agreed in August between Turkey and the U.S., and it involves creating a buffer between the Turkish border and Syrian areas controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, considered a “terrorist” offshoot of Kurdish insurgents in Turkey by Ankara.
The U.S. and Turkey have conducted three joint patrols as part of the deal, most recently on Friday.
In parallel, the semi-autonomous Kurdish administration in northeastern Syria has said its forces had dismantled fortifications and started to withdraw from outposts on the border, including in the Ras al-Ain area.
If it takes place, Turkey’s cross-border operation would be the third in Syria in recent years, after it launched offensives against IS in 2016 and the YPG in 2018.