Heavy fighting as Syria Kurds hold off Turkish assault

Qamishli (Syria) (AFP) –


Fighting raged in northeastern Syria on Friday as Turkish forces and their proxies tried to seize key Kurdish-held towns on the third day of a long-threatened offensive.

The Syrian Democratic Forces -- the autonomous Kurds' de facto army -- scrambled to repulse multiple ground attacks along a roughly 120 kilometre (75 mile) long segment of the border.

"There is heavy fighting between the SDF and the Turks on different fronts, mostly from Tal Abyad to Ras al-Ain," the Syria Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Britain-based war monitor said the Turkish forces and their Syrian proxies -- mostly Sunni Arab former rebels -- were using air strikes, heavy artillery and rocket fire.

"The SDF are using tunnels, trenches and berms" in their defence operations, the Observatory said.

Kurdish counter-attacks overnight led to the retaking of two of the 11 villages they had lost since the start of the Turkish-led assault on Wednesday.

A media centre affiliated to the Kurdish administration also said that Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad, which have been almost emptied of their population, were the worst hit.

It quoted a Kurdish military official as saying that some tribes in the mainly Arab area had sided with the Turks and raised sleeper cells to attack from behind SDF lines.

The Observatory also reported that dozens of Arab residents from the border area had joined the Turkish side.

According to the Observatory, a total of at least 10 civilians and 29 SDF fighters have been killed since the start of the offensive.

Turkey announced Friday morning that one of its soldiers had also been killed and three others wounded.