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Turkish Forces Push Deeper Into Syria Forcing 100,000 To Flee

Turkey says it captured more Kurdish-held villages in the border region as casualties mount on the third day of its military offensive into northeast Syria.

Turkish forces have faced fierce resistance from U.S-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters on the third day of their offensive in northern Syria, as casualties mount.

Turkey says it captured more Kurdish-held villages in the border region, while a hospital in a Syrian town was abandoned and a camp of 4000 displaced residents was evacuated after artillery shells landed nearby.

Reflecting international fears that Turkey's offensive could revive the Islamic State group, two car bombs exploded outside a restaurant in the Kurdish-controlled urban centre of Qamishli, killing three people, and the extremists claimed responsibility. The city also was heavily shelled by Turkish forces.

READ MORE: Turkey Launches Military Operation In Syria, Civilians Flee

Kurdish fighters waged intense battles against advancing Turkish troops that sought to take control of two major towns along the Turkish-Syrian border on Friday, a war monitor said.

The UN estimated the number of displaced at 100,000 since Wednesday, saying that markets, schools and clinics were also closed. Aid agencies have warned of a humanitarian crisis, with nearly half a million people at risk in northeast Syria.

Turkish-backed Syrian rebel fighters gather near the Syrian-Turkish border north of Aleppo on October 7, 2019. Image: NAZEER AL-KHATIB/AFP via Getty

U.S. President Donald Trump cleared the way for Turkey's air and ground invasion after he pulled American troops from their positions near the border. The move drew swift bipartisan criticism that he was endangering regional stability and putting at risk the lives of Syrian Kurdish allies who brought down the Islamic State group in Syria.

U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper said Washington is "greatly disappointed" by the offensive, which has badly damaged already frayed relations with NATO-ally Turkey. Despite the criticism, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country "will not take a step back" from its offensive.

"We will never stop this step. We will not stop no matter what anyone says," he said in a speech on Friday local time.

IMAGE: Reuters

Plumes of black smoke billowed from the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad as Turkey continued bombarding the area in an offensive that was progressing "successfully as planned", the Turkish Defence Ministry said.

Turkish troops and their allied Syrian opposition forces have advanced up to 8km into Syrian territory, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay told TRT World television. Turkey has said the military intends to move 30km into Syria and that its operation will last until all "terrorists are neutralised".

Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish fighters to be terrorists linked to a Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey and says the offensive is a counter-terrorism operation necessary for its own national security.

The Turkish Defence Ministry said four of its soldiers have been killed since Wednesday local time, with three wounded. Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said 342 "terrorists" -- Ankara's term for Syrian Kurdish militia fighters -- have been killed so far. The figure could not be independently verified.

The Kurdish-led force said 22 of its fighters have been killed since Wednesday local time. The Kurdish militia has fired dozens of mortars into Turkey in the past two days, including into Akcakale, according to officials in two provinces on the Turkish side. They said at least 17 civilians were killed in the shelling, including a nine-month-old boy and three girls under 15.