Two children among civilians killed in first wave of Turkey’s campaign against Syrian Kurdish group
Thousands flee as Turkish ground forces move across the border
Two children were among the dead so far, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said. The children were killed in two separate incidents hundreds of miles apart.
The first died along with their mother and father, in a village outside of Tal Abyad, a Syrian border town that is under heavy bombardment. Another was killed near the city of Qamishli, the Observatory said. No names were given.
News of the first casualties of the campaign came as thousands of civilians fled intensive bombing of towns and villages along the border. The offensive has drawn widespread condemnation across the world.
The Turkish military said it hit 181 targets of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) with its air force and artillery, paving the way for its ground forces and allied Syrian rebel groups to cross into Syria on Wednesday evening.
Turkish media reported later that Turkish-backed fighters had successfully seized two villages, Yabisa and Tel Fander, just outside Tal Abyad.
The SDF reported clashes at various points along the border, as its fighters attempted to repel the Turkish advance.
The SDF, a mostly Kurdish militia with an Arab contingent, has been a key ally of the US in the fight against Isis. The group received US arms, as well as significant air and ground support in the battle to defeat the Isis caliphate. It lost some 11,000 fighters in the years-long war before recapturing the last piece of Isis territory in March.
But that partnership has angered Ankara, which considers it a terrorist organisation for its link to Kurdish separatists in Turkey.
Turkey has threatened for years to attack the group, but the operation appears to have been set into motion just days ago when Donald Trump unexpectedly gave Ankara the green light to launch an offensive against them.
Mr Trump ordered the withdrawal of US forces from the border area, and said the US would not prevent a Turkish attack against its Kurdish allies.
A spokesperson from the SDF called Mr Trump’s decision to withdraw a “stab in the back”. There are now grave concerns that Turkey’s offensive could affect the security around Isis prisons and camps, home to some 18,000 militants and more than 70,000 refugees.
The offensive has been wildly criticised by several world leaders and rights organisations, with the United Nations warning it could cause a humanitarian crisis.
The European Union in a statement released Wednesday called on "Turkey to cease the unilateral military action" saying Ankara's plan for a "safe zone" would not "satisfy international criteria for refugee return as laid down by UNHCR".
President Tayyip Erdogan hit back threatening to send 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey to Europe if European countries label the country's military incursion as an occupation.
"We will open the gates and send 3.6 million refugees your way," he said in speech to lawmakers from his AK Party.