Turkey presses assault on Kurds
showed little sign of holding back: The Turkish Defense Military said its jets and artillery had struck 181 targets so far.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the military intends to move 19 miles into northern Syria and that its operation will last until all “terrorists are neutralized.”
More than a dozen columns of thick smoke rose in and around the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, one of the offensive’s first main targets. Turkish officials said the Kurdish militia has fired dozens of mortars into Turkish border towns, including Akcakale.
As the shelling intensified, cars packed with civilians crowded a bridge linking Syria and Iraq. “When we came, there were about four lanes of cars on the road and a 1-kilometer-long queue of cars,” said Murad Hassan, a Syrian Kurd from Qamishli.
Turkish officials in two border provinces said mortar fire from Syria killed six civilians, including a 9-month-old boy and three girls under 15. On the Syrian side, seven civilians and eight Kurdish fighters have been killed since the operation began, according to activists in Syria.
A Kurdish-led group and Syrian activists said that despite the bombardment, Turkish troops had not made much progress. Their claims could not be verified.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said 109 “terrorists” were killed, a reference to the Syrian Kurdish fighters. He did not elaborate, and reports from the area did not indicate anything remotely close to such a large number of casualties.
Erdogan also warned the European Union not to call Ankara’s incursion into Syria an “invasion.” He threatened, as he has in the past, to “open the gates” and let Syrian refugees flood into Europe.
Meanwhile, the Kurdish forces halted all operations against IS in order to focus on fighting Turkish troops, Kurdish and U.S. officials said. The Syrian Kurdish fighters, along with U.S. troops, have been involved in mopping-up operations against IS fighters in the desert after their territorial hold was toppled earlier this year.
Ankara says the Kurdish militia is linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has led an insurgency against Turkey for 35 years. The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people. The U.S. and other Western countries also deem the PKK a terrorist group.
Turkey, a NATO member, considers its operations against the Kurdish militia in Syria a matter of survival, and it also insists it won’t tolerate the virtual self-rule that the Kurds have carved out in northern Syria along the border.
The Turkish assault aims to create a corridor of control along the length of the border — a so-called safe zone — clearing out the Kurdish fighters. Such a zone would end the Kurds’ autonomy in the area and put much of their population under Turkish control. Ankara wants to settle 2 million Syrian refugees, mainly Arabs, in the zone.
Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said their fighters repelled the Turkish ground attacks. “No advance as of now,” he tweeted Thursday.
But Maj. Youssef Hammoud, a spokesman for Turkish-backed opposition fighters in the operation, said they captured the village of Yabisa, near Tal Abyad, a spokesman for the fighters said. In a tweet, he called it “the first village to win freedom.”
The refugee agency UNHCR said tens of thousands of people have fled their homes since Wednesday, while the Britainbased Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the figure at more than 60,000.
People in Akcakale, Turkey, at the border with Syria, watch smoke billowing inside Syria, during bombardment Thursday by Turkish forces.