Turkey has launched raids on the Syrian town of Tel Arqam and the nearby city of Ras al-Ain in the al-Hasakah Governorate, as ground troops continue their advance against Kurdish-led forces in northern Syria on Thursday, according to reports from the Syrian regime’s social media.
Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel allies attacked Kurdish-led forces in northeast Syria on Wednesday, pounding them with air strikes and artillery before starting a cross-border ground operation that could transform the eight-year-old war in Syria.
Turkey’s Defense Ministry said on Thursday that Turkish forces seized “designated targets” in northeast Syria. However, Syrian state news agency SANA reported on Thursday that the Syrian regime denied Turkey’s “allegations” that it seized areas in northeast Syria.
Heavy clashes continued on Thursday in Syrian villages that Turkish forces are trying to enter, a Kurdish-led SDF official said.
The assault began days after US President Donald Trump pulled American troops out of the way, prompting denunciations from senior members of his own Republican Party who say he abandoned the Syrian Kurds, whose fighters fought with Washington against ISIS.
Tel Arqam previously hosted a US military base for the area.
“The Turkish Armed Forces and the Syrian National Army have launched the land operation into the east of the Euphrates river as part of the Operation Peace Spring,” the Turkish defense ministry tweeted after nightfall, following a day of pounding the area from the air.
Turkish media reported troops entering Syria at four points, two of them close to the Syrian town of Tel Abyad and two close to Ras al-Ain further east.
As Turkish forces and their Syrian allies crossed the border, thousands of people fled Ras al-Ain. Turkish air strikes killed at least five civilians and three fighters from the SDF and wounded dozens of civilians, the SDF said.
Reuters journalists at Akcakale on the Turkish side of the frontier watched as explosions struck Tel Abyad. After dark, the red flare of rockets could be seen fired across the border into Tel Abyad, and flames burned near the town. Explosions from Tel Abyad could be heard eight hours into the bombardment. A witness reached by telephone said civilians were fleeing en masse.
SDF fighters repelled a ground attack by Turkish troops in Tel Abyad, SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said on Twitter.
International criticism, fear of new wave of refugees
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington had not given Turkey “a green light” to invade Syria, but added that Ankara had “legitimate security concerns.”
On Thursday, the German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer warned of a new wave of refugees to Europe due to “Turkey’s military operations in Syria.”