Thousands demonstrated on Sunday in a predominantly Kurdish area on the Syrian border with Turkey against threats of an offensive issued the day before by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Ankara had reiterated on Saturday an oft-repeated threat to launch an offensive in Syria against a Washington-allied Kurdish militia it deems a terrorist group.
Erdogan has warned that his country’s patience is wearing thin after Turkish and American officials agreed in August to establish a buffer zone meant to separate the Turkish border from Kurdish territories in northern Syria.
“Down with Erdogan, down with the occupation,” chanted protestors amassed on the border near the town of Ras al-Ain, an AFP correspondent said.
Protesters marched several kilometers to reach a base near Tel Arqam, held by the US-led international coalition which is allied with Kurdish-led forces against ISIS, the correspondent added.
“We will not abandon our land and we will stay here – but we do not want war,” said Ahmed Mohamed Salem, a 52-year-old protester.
Erdogan had reiterated the threat of an offensive on Saturday.
“We’ve made our preparations, completed our operation plans, given the necessary instructions,” Erdogan said during a televised speech, adding that the offensive could start “as soon as today, tomorrow.”
On the ground, an official from a pro-Ankara rebel group in northern Syria told AFP that Turkish forces had supplied its fighters with “military gear,” citing an “all-out mobilization”.
Kurdish authorities had on Saturday decried Erdogan’s comments, calling on the international community to “put pressure on Turkey to stop it from carrying out any aggression.”
On Sunday, they warned that a Turkish offensive could have an adverse impact on security at Al-Hol, a displaced camp containing women and children affiliated with ISIS in territory under Kurdish control.
The camp would become “difficult to control,” the Kurdish administration said in a statement.
Al-Hol hosts 70,000 people – some of them highly radicalized elements from the West – and has become a powder keg.
Kurdish-led forces, supported by the US-led coalition, captured ISIS’s last bastion in Syria in March this year, resulting in families of vanquished fighters flooding into the overcrowded camp.
In the areas of Ras al-Ain, Tal Abyad and Kobane, all bordering Turkey, Kurdish forces have dug trenches and tunnels in preparation for a Turkish offensive, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said on Sunday.
The Britain-based Observatory reported joint patrols between coalition forces and those of the Tal Abyad military council on the Turkish border.
In-mid September, the coalition had said that “good progress” was being made in implementing the buffer zone.
Turkey launched cross-border offensives in 2016 and 2018 against ISIS and Kurdish Syrian forces, respectively.
Meanwhile, Erdogan and US counterpart Donald Trump agreed during a phone call to meet in Washington next month to discuss creating a “safe zone” in northern Syria, the Turkish presidency said Sunday.
Erdogan told Trump of his “frustration over the US military and security bureaucracy’s failure to implement the deal” agreed in August to establish a buffer zone on the Turkish border, the presidency said in a statement.
It added that the visit would take place after an invitation from Trump.
There had been expectations in Turkey of a Trump-Erdogan meeting on Syria last month on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, but it did not take place.