Thousands have fled and dozens have been killed in northeastern Syria as Turkey’s military operation entered its third day.
Turkish forces were encircling the border towns of Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad, shelling Kurdish militia, forcing tens of thousands to flee south.
Ankara’s military action is targeting the US-backed Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spearheaded by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, an important US ally in the war against ISIS.
The YPG is designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey, due to their ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants waging an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984.
According to Turkey’s Defense Ministry, hundreds of militants and two Turkish soldiers had been killed so far in the offensive.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said that at least 41 fighters with the SDF, 34 Turkey-backed Syrian rebels and 17 civilians have been killed.
The Turkish airstrikes and shelling had killed nine civilians according to SDF. The Turkish authorities said that six people including a 9-month-old baby were killed by mortar and rocket fired into Turkey’s border towns.
According to the figures given by the International Rescue Committee, 64,000 people have fled their hometowns since the operations began.
According to a senior Turkish security official cited by Reuters, the armed forces struck weapons and ammunition depots, gun and sniper positions, tunnels and military bases and jets carried out missions up to 30 km into Syria – a limit that Turkey’s foreign minister said Turkish forces would not cross.
There were no immediate reports of Turkish casualties.
The UN Security Council discussed the situation on Thursday at the request of its current five EU members – the UK, France, Germany, Belgium, and Poland.
The Council failed to agree on a statement denouncing Turkey’s offensive into northeast Syria targeting Kurdish militias, Associated Press reported.
France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian who expressed his condemnation for Turkey’s military offensive in northeast Syria in a tweet on Wednesday called for an emergency meeting of the coalition of more than 30 countries created to fight Islamic State.
The coalition “needs to say today what are we going do, how do you, Turkey, want to proceed and how do we ensure the security of places where fighters are held? Everything needs to be on the table so that we are clear,” Le Drian said on France 2 television.
Erdogan said militants from Islamic State would not be allowed to rebuild a presence in the region.
US President Donald Trump, criticized by many in Washington from both sides of the political aisle for his decision to withdraw troops from the immediate area, laid out three options for his country on Thursday in a series of tweets.
“We have one of three choices: Send in thousands of troops and win Militarily, hit Turkey very hard Financially and with Sanctions, or mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds!”
“I hope we can mediate,” Trump said when asked about the options by reporters at the White House.
Trump said the United States was “going to possibly do something very, very tough with respect to sanctions and other financial things” against Turkey, without giving further details.
On Thursday, twenty-nine Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives announced that they would introduce legislation to impose sanctions against Turkey, Reuters reported.
“President Erdogan and his regime must face serious consequences for mercilessly attacking our Kurdish allies in northern Syria,” Liz Cheney, chair of the House Republican Conference, said in a statement.