Turkish soldiers push deeper into Syria as casualties increase
International condemnation of the action has increased on the third day of the incursion.
Turkish forces have pushed deeper into north-eastern Syria on the third day of Ankara’s cross-border offensive against Kurdish fighters, as casualties mounted, international criticism of the campaign intensified and thousands of civilians fled the violence.
There have been casualties on both sides and Turkey reported its first military fatalities, saying four soldiers were “martyred” in fighting and three others were injured.
At least nine civilians are now reported to have been killed in Turkey and seven more in Syria since Ankara launched its air and ground operation, a move it said is necessary to protect national security.
The Turkish defence ministry also said 342 “terrorists” have been “neutralised” in the incursion so far – in reference to Syrian Kurdish fighters. The figure could not be independently verified and Syrian activists say only eight fighters have been killed.
EU council chief Donald Tusk on Friday urged Ankara to halt its military incursion before it triggers another “humanitarian catastrophe”.
He said the security concerns Turkey has cited as reasons for the operation should be dealt with through diplomatic and political means, and that military action only exacerbates civilian suffering, causes further displacement of people and threatens progress that has been achieved so far in battling the Islamic State group.
Mr Tusk said Syrian Kurdish forces have been “crucial” in fighting IS and abandoning them “is not only a bad idea” but raises many “questions both of a strategic and moral nature”.
He also strongly criticised Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for suggesting he would send 3.6 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey to Europe unless the 28-member bloc stops calling Turkey’s action an “invasion”.
Mr Tusk said such remarks are “totally out of place”, adding that the EU will never accept refugees being “weaponized and used to blackmail us”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also also voiced concern the operation could impact on efforts to defeat IS.
Speaking during a visit to Turkmenistan, Mr Putin said he doubts the Turkish army has enough resources to promptly take control of IS prison camps, saying he fears the captured IS fighters who have been until now held by the Syrian Kurdish militia “could just run away”.
He added: “We have to be aware of this and mobilise the resources of our intelligence to undercut this emerging tangible threat.”
On Friday, plumes of black smoke billowed from the Syrian border town of Tel Abyad as Turkey continued bombarding the area.
Residents fled with their belongings loaded into vehicles, or on foot, and the UN refugee agency has warned tens of thousands of people are on the move seeking safety.
Aid agencies warn nearly half-a-million people near the border are at risk – in scenes similar to those from a few years ago when civilians fled the Islamic State group militants.