The Latest: UN chief urges ‘maximum restraint’ in NE Syria

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on developments in Syria (all times local):

9:00 p.m.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is urging “maximum restraint” by all parties in Syria’s conflict, ahead of what Turkey says is its imminent offensive into the country’s northeast.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Guterres is greatly concerned, especially at the risk to civilians in any escalation of fighting.

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The U.N. chief emphasizes that civilians must be protected, and all parties must guarantee “sustained, unimpeded and safe humanitarian access to civilians in need,” Dujarric says.

Dujarric said Guterres is following the situation in northeast Syria “with great concern” and the U.N. remains engaged “with all the major actors.”

Asked about Turkey’s plans to move people to a buffer zone, Dujarric said it’s important that any zone does not impact the right of people to seek asylum. He said it’s also “very important” that people retain their freedom of movement.

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7:45 p.m.

Two International aid groups say a Turkish military offensive in northeast Syria could displace hundreds of thousands of people, and disrupt humanitarian aid to people in displaced camps, including children.

The International Rescue Committee said Monday it is deeply concerned about the lives of the 2 million residents of northeast Syria who survived the brutal rule of Islamic State militants. It said as many as 300,000 may be immediately displaced by an offensive.

Save the Children said more than 1.6 million residents of the area require humanitarian assistance.

It said in addition thousands live in displaced people’s camps, including more than 9,000 foreign children from 40 different countries who came out from the last territory held by IS last March. Save the Children called for moving the children to safety, before any further disruption of services could put their lives of at risk.

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6:50 p.m.

Iran’s foreign minister says the United States is an “irrelevant occupier” in Syria and that the conflict-torn country’s territorial integrity should be respected.

Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote in a tweet Monday, “US is an irrelevant occupier in Syria_futile to seek its permission or rely on it for security.”

He added that Syria’s eight-year civil war could only be ended through “respect for its territorial integrity & its people.”

Zarif said “Adana provides framework for Turkey & Syria,” referring to Iran- and Russia-backed talks.

U.S. forces in northeastern Syria are withdrawing from positions by the border, ahead of an expected Turkish assault — essentially abandoning Kurdish fighters who fought alongside American forces in the yearslong battle to defeat the Islamic State group.

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6:05 p.m.

Russia is calling on Turkey to respect Syrian territorial integrity, as Ankara says it is preparing to send a military operation across the border into northeast Syria.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday that Moscow realizes Turkey’s need to ensure its security, but noted that “it’s necessary to respect Syria’s territorial and political integrity.”

Ankara considers the U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters terrorists linked to a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey.

Peskov wouldn’t comment on whether the U.S. withdrawal could push the Kurds to seek a dialogue with Damascus. He reaffirmed Moscow’s view that all foreign troops who hadn’t been invited by Syria should leave.

Russia and Iran have helped Syrian President Bashar Assad reclaim control over most of the country following a devastating eight-year civil war.

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6:00 p.m.

Turkey’s parliament is scheduled to vote to extend by another year a mandate that allows the Turkish military to intervene in Iraq and Syria.

State-run Anadolu Agency says the vote will take place Tuesday, on allowing Turkey to send troops over its southern borders to battle Kurdish rebels, Islamic State group militants and other groups that Turkey view as terrorists.

The military’s current mandate expires at the end of October.

Turkey has regularly renewed the mandate every year since 2014 for cross border operations in Iraq and Syria.

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5:50 p.m.

France is calling on Turkey to avoid taking any unilateral action in northern Syria that could hinder the ongoing fight against the Islamic State group.

The statement from the Foreign Ministry Monday warned Turkey’s threatened military incursion into northern Syria could “hurt regional stability” and not help with the return of refugees to the area — as Ankara has promised.

The statement came hours after the White House’s announcement it was pulling U.S. troops from northern Syria, clearing the way for an expected Turkish assault against Kurdish fighters who have been key allies in the campaign against the Islamic State group.

More French fighters joined the extremist group than any other European nationality. France has been reluctant to allow the militants home, even to face trial.

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4:05 p.m.

A Turkish media report says a bomb attack in a northern Syrian town held by Turkey-backed fighters has killed at least one person.

CNN-Turk television said at least two other people were wounded when a motorcycle laden with explosives went off in the town of Azaz on Monday.

The attack came hours after U.S. troops began pulling back from positions in Syria’s northeast, allowing an expected incursion by Turkish forces across the border.

Azaz, which was once controlled by Syrian Kurdish fighters opposed to Turkey, has been hit by similar attacks in the past.

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3:30 p.m.

President Donald Trump is defending his decision to pull troops from northern Syria, clearing the way for an expected Turkish assault and essentially abandoning Kurdish fighters who fought alongside American forces in the yearslong battle to defeat the Islamic State group.

Trump tweeted on Monday following the late-Sunday White House announcement, that, “The Kurds fought with us,” while at the same time claiming they “were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so.”

Trump says it’s now time to bring U.S. troops home, adding in all-caps, “WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN.”

Trump also says it’s now up to the region to decide what to do with captured IS fighters. He says: “We are 7000 miles away and will crush ISIS again if they come anywhere near us!”

Syria’s Kurds accused the U.S. of turning its back on its allies and risking gains made in the fight against IS.

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3:20 p.m.

A top Turkish official says Ankara’s planned incursion in northeastern Syria aims to eradicate the threats posed by both Syrian Kurdish forces and the Islamic State group.

Fahrettin Altun, communications director for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said on Twitter on Monday that “Turkey’s intension is clear: to dismantle the terrorist corridor on our border. To fight against (the) PKK, which is the enemy of the Kurdish people. To combat (IS) and prevent its resurgence.”

His comments came after American troops began pulling back from positions along the border in northeast Syria ahead of an expected Turkish invasion to drive away Syrian Kurdish fighters away from the frontier.

Turkey considers the U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters terrorists who are allied with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged an insurgency against Turkey for 35 years.

Altun wrote: “Areas liberated from PKK will have services provided by Turkey, rather than enduring the occupation by a terrorist militia.”

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2:20 p.m.

A senior Syrian Kurdish official is criticizing a White House statement about transferring to Turkey the responsibility for thousands of foreign Islamic State fighters held in northeastern Syria in the wake of a U.S. pullout from positions there as “illogical.”

Abdulkarim Omar, who acts as foreign minister for the Syrian Kurds, said on Monday the statement is unclear as the detention areas are far from the border zone where Turkey is expected to make its incursion.

Omar said the U.S. troop withdrawal from the border will have “catastrophic consequences” because Kurdish-led forces would be preoccupied with defending the border, instead of protecting detention facilities or the crowded al-Hol camp which houses over 73,000 people, many of them IS families and supporters.

Omar called on the international community to work to reverse President Donald Trump’s decision or stop the Turkish offensive.

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2:10 p.m.

Germany has expressed concerns at the prospect of an incursion by Turkey into northeastern Syria, saying such an intervention could further destabilize the war-torn country.

Ulrike Demmer, a spokeswoman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, said on Monday that Germany is aware of the “special security policy situation” that Turkey faces on its border. But she cautioned that successes against the Islamic State group, which she noted were achieved in significant part by Syrian Kurdish forces with international support, “must not be endangered.”

U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces said American troops began pulling back on Monday from positions in northeastern Syria ahead of the expected Turkish incursion.

Demmer said that a unilateral military intervention “would lead to a further escalation in Syria and contribute to a continued destabilization of the country.” She said it would also have negative security policy and humanitarian consequences.

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2:05 p.m.

A senior U.N. envoy for Syria says the fighting sides should “put people first” amid concerns that a pullback by U.S. troops along the Turkey-Syria border will trigger an invasion by Turkish forces into a densely populated area.

Panos Moumtzis, from the U.N. humanitarian aid coordination agency, said he hopes that “military engages with military” — and not civilians — if any such assault occurs.

He said the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is preparing for the worst but hoping for the best. OCHA is offering to help indicate where clinics, schools, water points, markets or residential areas are located to help the forces on the ground avoid civilians.

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2 p.m.

The European Union is calling for calm in northern Syria and warns that fresh fighting there is only like to drive more people from their homes.

This comes as Turkish troops are expected to launch an offensive soon.

European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said on Monday that “renewed armed hostilities in the northeast will not only exacerbate civilian suffering and lead to massive displacement but will also risk severely undermining current political efforts.”

Kocijancic says the EU remains committed to Syria’ “unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity” and that a long-term solution to the conflict “will not be reached through military means but requires a genuine political transition.”

Turkey has threatened for months to launch a military operation to drive away Syrian Kurdish fighters from the border region.

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11:05 a.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says American troops have started withdrawing from positions in northern Syria.

Erdogan spoke on Monday, hours after the White House said that U.S. forces in northeast Syria will move aside and clear the way for an expected Turkish incursion. The announcement cast uncertainty on the fate of the Kurdish fighters allied with the U.S. against against the Islamic State group.

Turkey has threatened for months to launch a military operation to drive away Syrian Kurdish fighters from a border region east of the Euphrates River.

Erdogan didn’t elaborate on the planned Turkish incursion but said Turkey was determined to halt what it perceives as threats from the Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Erdogan also said he planned to travel to Washington next month to meet with President Donald Trump.

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9:40 a.m.

U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces in Syria say American troops have begun withdrawing from areas along Turkey’s border.

This comes hours after the White House said U.S. forces in northeastern Syria will move aside and clear the way for an expected Turkish assault — essentially abandoning Kurdish fighters who fought alongside American forces in the yearslong battle to defeat the Islamic State group.

The Syrian Democratic Forces say the move comes as Turkey is preparing to attack Kurdish-held areas in northeast Syria.

The statement warns the Turkish invasion would be a blow to the fight against IS militants.

The Kurdish Hawar news agency and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also say American troops were evacuating positions near the towns of Ras al-Ayn and Tal Abyad on Monday.

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