Turkish forces have pushed deeper into north-eastern Syria on the third day of Ankara’s cross-border offensive against Kurdish fighters.
This has sparked another mass displacement of civilians and met with widespread criticism from the international community.
There were casualties on both sides and Turkey reported its first military fatality, saying a soldier was “martyred” in the fighting and three others were injured.
At least six civilians are 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 49 more “terrorists” had been “neutralised” in the incursion – in reference to Syrian Kurdish fighters – saying it has now killed a total of 277.
The numbers could not be independently verified.
On Friday morning, 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.
Ankara insists its incursion is progressing ‘successfully as planned’, though a Kurdish-led group and Syrian activists say that despite the bombardment, Turkish troops have not made much progress.
Meanwhile, a French official has said sanctions against Turkey over the incursion will be ‘on the table’ at next week’s European Union summit.
Amelie de Montchalin, the French secretary for European affairs, said Europe rejects any idea that it is powerless to respond to what she described as a shocking situation against civilians and Europe’s Kurdish allies.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has responded to criticism with a warning to the EU not to call the incursion into Syria an ‘invasion’, and he renewed a threat to ‘open the gates’ and let Syrian refugees flood into Europe.
On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he is worried the Turkish invasion in Syria could unleash the Islamic State group again.
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.”
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