DAMASCUS (Dispatches) – More than 100,000 people from the towns of Ras Al-Ayn and Tal Abyad have been displaced by the escalation of violence in Syria, the UN World Food Programme said on Saturday.
The World Food Programme and its partners will still support people in the northeast despite a deterioration in the security situation, it said. About 580,000 of the people it feeds in the region are currently living in Kurdish-controlled areas.
The self-proclaimed Kurdish-led authority in northeastern Syria disputers the figure and says more than 191,000 people have been displaced as a result of the Turkish invasion.
Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit on Saturday led Arab foreign ministers in lambasting Turkey’s military operation in northeast Syria as an "invasion of an Arab state’s land and an aggression on its sovereignty”.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohamed Ali Alhakim, president of the current Arab League session, also condemned Turkey’s offensive into Syria during an emergency meeting of the body, called by Egypt.
The offensive "will exacerbate humanitarian crises, increase the suffering of the Syrian people, and strengthen the ability of terrorists to reorganize their remnants,” Alhakim said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin says the territorial integrity of Syria must be fully restored and all foreign forces should withdraw, including Russia if Damascus decides it doesn’t need Moscow’s help anymore.
"All the forces deployed illegitimately inside any sovereign state – in this case Syria – must leave,” Putin said in a joint interview with RT Arabic, UAE-based Sky News Arabia, and Saudi Arabia’s Al-Arabiya broadcasters.
He noted that "this is true for everyone. If Syria’s new legitimate government chooses to say that they have no more need for Russia’s military presence, this will be just as true for Russia".
Turkey's defense ministry says its forces have taken control of the Syrian border town of Ras al-Ain from U.S.-backed Kurdish militants.
"As a result of successful operations within the scope of Operation Peace Spring, the town of Ras al-Ain to the east of the Euphrates has been brought under control," the ministry wrote on Twitter Saturday.
An official of the Kurdish SDF militants, however, said the Syrian city "is still resisting and clashes are ongoing".
The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported that the town had yet to be completely taken. The London-based monitor said 30 civilians have been killed since the incursion began.
Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad have been the primary focus of Turkey's incursion launched on Wednesday. They have come under heavy bombardment, prompting tens of thousands of civilians to flee.
According to the observatory, Turkish forces have launched a three- pronged operation against Ras al-Ain under the cover of heavy artillery fire and airstrikes.
The offensive, it said, has caused successive waves of displacement from the city of al-Malikiya to Kobani, known also as Ayn al-Arab.
Turkey-backed militants said on Saturday they have cut the 712 road that links Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ain. A militant spokesman claimed 18 villages have been captured in the advance.
The road hugs the border in some places and in others extends a number of kilometers into Syria.
Syria's official SANA news agency said Turkish warplanes were targeting villages.
SANA's reporter in Hasakah said Turkey had also cut off an international highway linking the province in the far northeastern corner of Syria to Aleppo.
U.S. forces, the reporter said, had transported 80 foreign Daesh prisoners held at al-Shadadi prison south of Hasakah to Iraq.
In a tweet on Saturday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif posted part of his interview with Turkey's TRT World, offering to engage Ankara, Damascus and Syrian Kurds in talks to establish security along the border.
He referred to the 1998 Adana Interstate Agreement on Combating Terrorism, stressing that Turkey and Syria can jointly secure the border.
Turkey launched its long-threatened incursion into northeast Syria in a declared attempt to eliminate US-backed YPG militants.
The YPG constitutes the backbone of SDF militants who are acting like US proxies in Syria.
The Turkish defense ministry said Saturday 415 YPG militants had been "neutralized" since the operation began.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan vowed Friday that Ankara would not halt its military campaign in Syria despite international calls on the country to do so.
"We will never stop this step we have taken against the PYD/YPG... We will not stop it no matter what anyone says,” he said. "We’re receiving threats from right and left, saying stop this progress.”