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Syria Kurds defend key town as Turkey ignores US

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Kurdish forces held out in a key border town Tuesday seven days into a deadly Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria that has caused mass displacement and reshaped the political map.

The United States slapped sanctions on its NATO ally in a bid to stop an assault that its own troop withdrawal from the area triggered but Ankara showed no sign of relenting.

Using a dense network of tunnels, berms and trenches, Kurdish fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been mounting a desperate defense of Ras al-Ain.

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They launched “a large counterattack against Turkish forces and their Syrian proxies near Ras al-Ain,” the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Since launching their assault on October 9, Turkish-backed forces have secured more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) of border, but Ras al-Ain, which the Kurds call Siri Kani, has held out.

AFP / Ozan KOSE The ethnically divided Kurdish-held border town of Ras al-Ain is one of the key targets of Turkey’s nearly week-old invasion and has ome under heavy bombardment

An AFP correspondent in the area said clashes around the town continued on Tuesday, despite repeated claims by Ankara in recent days that it had captured the area.

Further west, SDF fighters have been battling Turkey’s Syrian proxies — mostly former rebels paid and equipped by Ankara — around the flashpoint town of Manbij.

US President Donald Trump announced a pullback from the border last week, a move which was widely interpreted as green-lighting a long-planned Turkish invasion.

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Politically embattled at home, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to create a 30 kilometre (20 mile) deep buffer zone on the Syrian side of the long border.

– Sanctions –

He wants to keep the SDF at bay — Ankara considers them a terrorist group because of their links with the main Kurdish insurgency in Turkey — and create a resettlement area for some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees currently on Turkish soil.

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AFP /Turkish offensive in NE Syria

The offensive has left dozens of civilians dead, mostly on the Kurdish side, and displaced at least 160,000 people.

Trump, who is campaigning for re-election but faces impeachment, is keen to deliver on a promise of pulling US troops out of the Syria quagmire.

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More than 1,000 troops are now being withdrawn from northern Syria and the United States will keep only a residual contingent of some 150 troops in the south at the Al-Tanf base near the borders with Jordan and Iraq.

US Vice President Mike Pence said Monday he would travel to Turkey soon and added that Trump had asked Erdogan to stop the offensive.

In a bid to force Turkey’s hand, Washington slapped sanctions on its defense, interior and energy ministers, freezing their US assets and making US transactions with them a crime.

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AFP / Aaref WATAD Syrian Arab civilians flash the victory sign as Turkish tanks and armoured personnel carriers gather on the outskirts of the flashpoint Syrian city of Manbij

“I am fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey’s economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path,” said Trump, who until recently had touted his friendship with Erdogan.

Abandoned by the US, their chief ally in years of battles against the Islamic State group that cost the lives of 11,000 of their fighters, the Kurds turned to Damascus.

Syrian government forces rushed north on Monday as part of a Russian-brokered deal aimed at preventing Turkish-backed forces from moving any deeper into the country.

– Transfers to Iraq? –

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European governments in particular are worried that the chaos in the area could lead to mass breakouts by thousands of IS fighters detained by Kurdish forces.

They have warned this would lead to a resurgence of the jihadist organisation, only months after the demise of its so-called “caliphate”.

AFP/File / DELIL SOULEIMAN Syria’s Kurds have warned repeatedly that their fighters have been mobilised to defend against the Turkish invasion and are not available to guard the tens of thousands of IS prisoners and family members in their custody

It would also increase the risk that some of them might find their way back to Europe to plan and conduct high-profile terror attacks.

“The United States’ decision to withdraw from Syria has emboldened jihadists worldwide. The return of the Islamic State is now a given,” the Institute for the Study of War said in a brief.

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The SDF have warned that their fighters were mobilized to defend against the Turkish advance and not available to fully guard IS prisoners.

That has already resulted in the escape of hundreds of foreign fighters’ relatives, although Trump suggested the SDF may have deliberately let them go to gain leverage.

Human Rights Watch warned European countries against attempts to have their detained nationals transferred en masse to Iraq for prosecution.

The watchdog warned it would be illegal for these countries to send nationals to stand trial in a country where they risk execution and where due process is consistently violated.

A European diplomatic source said France was discussing a transfer with Iraqi officials on Tuesday.

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Trump ridiculed after his Louisiana governor candidate goes down in flames: ‘Guess it’s time for another unplanned trip to the hospital’

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Commenters on the Internet piled on President Donald Trump late Saturday night after the GOP candidate for Lousiana's governor seat lost to sitting Governor John Bel Edwards who held his seat in a state that Trump carried in 2016 by nearly 20 percentage points.

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You can see a screenshot and responses to the president below:

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Ex-NSC official accuses Sondland of working to promote Trump’s interests: ‘His mandate from the president was to go make deals’

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According to a report from the Washington Post, a former White House national security aide told House investigators that Gordon Sondland was instructed to "go make deals" by Donald Trump in the diplomat's capacity as ambassador to the European Union.

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Police in Bolivia pepper spray journalist ‘on purpose’ during live coverage of anti-coup protests

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Becoming part of the story she was seeking to cover, international news correspondent Teresa Bo was assaulted by Bolivian state security forces on Friday—shot directly in the face, while on camera, with tear gas or pepper spray.

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Al Jazeera's @TeresaBo has been intentionally tear-gassed in the eyes by Bolivian police while on air. She was simply trying to report what was happening. And, being a total pro, she kept right on doing it. pic.twitter.com/74foN7tvRF

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