TAL TAMR, Syria: Syrian government forces arrive in the town of Tal Tamr, not far from the flashpoint Kurdish Syrian town of Ras Al-Ain on the border with Turkey, which has been a key target of Turkish forces and their proxies since they launched their military assault. - AFP

MANBIJ: Turkey
ignored US sanctions and pressed on with its assault on northern Syria
yesterday, while the Russia-backed Syrian army roared into one of the most
hotly contested cities abandoned by US forces in Donald Trump's retreat.
Reuters journalists accompanied Syrian government forces who entered the centre
of the city of Manbij, a flashpoint where US troops had previously conducted
joint patrols with Turkey.

Russian and
Syrian flags were flying from a building on the city outskirts, and from a
convoy of military vehicles. US forces announced they had pulled out of the
city. A week after reversing US policy and moving troops out of the way to
allow Turkey to attack Washington's Syrian allies, Trump announced a package of
sanctions to punish Ankara. But the measures - mainly a hike in steel tariffs
and a pause in trade talks - were less robust than financial markets had
expected, and Trump's critics derided them as too feeble to have an impact.

The Turkish lira,
which had fallen on the expectation of tougher US measures, recovered after the
sanctions were announced, as did its bond and stock markets, with traders
noting that Trump had spared Turkish banks. Trump's unexpected decision to
withhold protection from Syria's Kurds after a phone call with Turkish
President Tayyip Erdogan a week ago swiftly upended five years of US policy in
the Middle East.

The withdrawal
gives a free hand to Washington's adversaries in the world's deadliest ongoing
war, namely Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian
allies. The United States announced on Sunday it was withdrawing its entire
force of 1,000 troops from northern Syria. Its former Kurdish allies
immediately forged a new alliance with Assad's Russia-backed government,
inviting the army into towns across the breadth of their territory.

Troops enter

Syrian forces moved swiftly to fill the void left by departing Americans from
Manbij west of the Euphrates river, which Turkey has vowed to capture. "We
are out of Manbij," said Colonel Myles B Caggins, spokesman for the US-led
coalition in Syria. Troops "are executing a deliberate withdrawal from
northeast Syria." A group of journalists accompanied by Syrian army
personnel journeyed into Manbij city where upon their arrival a group of people
gathered, waving the Syrian flag and pictures of Assad.

However the
reporters left when gunfire was heard and a group of some 10 young men in
Kurdish YPG uniforms began breaking cameras and yelling. Syrian state media
said SDF fighters had opened fire on a march organized by the people of Manbij
to welcome the army. Trump's pullout ends joint US-Turkish patrols of the
Manbij area under a deal aimed to persuade Turkey not to invade.

Syrian state
television broadcast footage of what it said was government troops entering
Manbij yesterday, under their new deal with the Kurds. A resident inside the
city told Reuters the Syrian troops were on its outskirts. Turkey-backed Syrian
fighters said they would continue their advance towards Manbij. A Reuters
cameraman on the Turkish frontier reported heavy bombardment yesterday morning
of the Syrian border town of Ras Al Ain, where a spokesman for the Kurdish-led
Syrian Democratic Forces reported a fierce battle was taking place.

Sanctions 'fall
very short'

Trump has
defended his reversal of US policy as part of a plan to withdraw the United
States from "endless" wars in the Middle East. But his critics,
including senior figures in his own Republican Party, cast it as a betrayal of
the Kurds, loyal allies who lost thousands of fighters as the principal ground
forces in Washington's battle against Islamic State.

The Democratic
speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, said Trump's sanctions
were too little, too late. "His announcement of a package of sanctions
against Turkey falls very short of reversing that humanitarian disaster."
Turkey says it aims to defeat the Kurdish YPG militia, which it sees as
terrorists for their links to separatists in Turkey, and to create a "safe
zone" where millions of Syrian refugees can be resettled.

The United
Nations says 160,000 people have fled their homes as Turkish forces advance.
The Kurdish administration puts the number of displaced at 270,000. The UN
Human Rights office said yesterday Turkey could be held responsible for war
crimes by fighters under its direction, potentially including the assassination
of Hevrin Khalaf, a leading Kurdish politician killed on the side of a highway
on Saturday by gunmen who posted the incident on the Internet.

fighters have denied blame for her murder. Erdogan, who has pledged to continue
military operations come what may, said Turkey was giving the world a chance to
bring peace to the region. "The international community missed its
opportunity to prevent the Syrian crisis from pulling an entire region into a
maelstrom of instability," he wrote in the Wall Street Journal. "The
European Union - and the world - should support what Turkey is trying to

The Syrian army
deployments into Kurdish-held territory evacuated by Washington are a victory
for President Bashar al-Assad and his most powerful ally, Russia, giving them a
foothold in the biggest remaining swath of the country that had been beyond
their grasp. Trump allies insisted Washington had not given its blessing to the
Turkish offensive, and demanded a ceasefire.

"The United
States of America simply is not going to tolerate Turkey's invasion in Syria
any further," Vice President Mike Pence said. "We are calling on
Turkey to stand down, end the violence and come to the negotiating table."
Trump's sanctions include reimposing steel tariffs and halting talks on a trade
deal. But bilateral trade between Turkey and the United States is small -
around a tenth the size of Turkey's trade with Europe. Washington's most
effective form of economic leverage would be to hinder Turkey's access to US
financial markets, a step Trump has so far avoided.

sanctions are not related to banking, so the markets will have a positive
perception," said Cem Tozge, asset management director at Ata Invest. In a
potentially more damaging blow, German carmaker Volkswagen said it was
postponing a final decision on whether to build a 1 billion euro ($1.1 billion)
plant in Turkey, citing concern over "current developments" after
international condemnation of the incursion.

countries have criticized the offensive but have limited their response so far
to announcing suspensions of arms sales, although weapons account for only a
small fraction of EU-Turkish trade. Trump said US troops would remain at a
small garrison at Tanf in southern Syria "to continue to disrupt
remnants" of Islamic State. The base on the southern border is hundreds of
miles away from the Kurdish area in the north that had previously been the main
US theatre.- Reuters