Turkey begins offensive against Kurdish fighters in Syria

Local residents jeer and applaud as a convoy of Turkish forces vehicles and trucks carrying tanks and armoured personnel carriers driven in Sanliurfa province southeastern Turkey Tuesday Oct. 8 2019. The Turkey- Syria border has became a hot spot

Local residents jeer and applaud as a convoy of Turkish forces vehicles and trucks carrying tanks and armoured personnel carriers driven in Sanliurfa province southeastern Turkey Tuesday Oct. 8 2019. The Turkey- Syria border has became a hot spot

The assault follows a massive artillery bombardment on Kurdish-controlled areas in northeastern Syria on Wednesday, ahead of the invasion made possible by the withdrawal of USA troops.

Kurdish sources reported that at least 16 positions were struck in the first hours of the operation, to which the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) responded with some cross-border artillery fire.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday announced the beginning of Turkey's operation in northeastern Syria, three days after President Donald Trump agreed to move USA troops out of the region to clear the way for Ankara.

The White House said it came after a phone call between President Donald Trump and Mr Erdogan. "Turkey has committed to protecting civilians, protecting religious minorities, including Christians, and ensuring no humanitarian crisis takes place - and we will hold them to this commitment".

Another Assad ally, Iran, urged Turkey to show restraint and avoid military action in northern Syria, although it said Turkey was "rightfully worried" about its southern border.

"Erdogan dubbed the operation as "#OperationPeaceSpring", in his tweet.

The Kurdish-led SDF, which is holding thousands of ISIS fighters in several detention facilities in northeastern Syria, has warned that a Turkish incursion might lead to the resurgence of the extremists.

The artillery strikes, which also targeted YPG gun and sniper positions, were aimed at sites far from residential areas, the source said.

While the Turkish military and its Syrian proxies - Arab-dominated former Syrian rebels - had not yet crossed into Syria, an AFP photographer saw forces massing near the border.

Smoke billows after Turkish bombardment in Syria's northeastern town of Ras al-Ain.

The sound of howitzers also echoed in Ceylanpinar, as smoke was rising from some districts of Ras al-Ayn, and fighter jets zip along the Syrian border.

Meanwhile, the YPG/PKK in Qamishli, northern Syria, fired six rockets targeting civilians in Nusaybin district of Mardin near the Turkey-Syria border.

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There were no immediate reports of casualties among security forces.

Ankara says it intends to create a 30-kilometer-deep "safety zone" along its border with Syria to resettle up to 2 million of the more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey.

In the build-up to the expected offensive, Syria had said it was determined to confront any Turkish aggression by all legitimate means.

Turkey views Kurdish YPG fighters in northeast Syria as terrorists due to their ties to militants waging an insurgency inside Turkey. An influx of non-Kurdish Syrians would help it secure a buffer against its main security threat.

Amid deepening humanitarian concerns, Germany said Turkey's action would lead to further instability and could strengthen ISIS, which the US-armed SDF helped defeat in Syria.

The Kurdish-led SDF say they lost 11,000 personnel in years of operations against IS that climaxed in March with a battle against the final bastion of the jihadists' caliphate in Baghouz. One the next day, Washington said that the U.S. military would not take part in the incursion.

Kurdish leaders said they would hold their erstwhile United States ally and the whole global community responsible for any "humanitarian catastrophe".

Mr Trump's decision to pull back troops has rattled allies, including France and Britain, two of Washington's main partners in the US-led coalition fighting Islamc State.

"We call upon our people, of all ethnic groups, to move toward areas close to the border with Turkey to carry out acts of resistance during this sensitive historical time", the local authority, known as the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, said.

The White House said in a statement on Sunday that Turkey would now be responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area captured over the past two years.

Turkey was taking over leadership of the fight against Islamic State in Syria, he said.

"Strike them with an iron fist, make them taste the hell of your fires", the National Army told its fighters.

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