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Turkey Launches Military Operation In Syria, Civilians Flee

Turkey attacked Kurdish militia positions in northeast Syria on Wednesday, pounding them with air strikes and artillery barrages in a cross-border military operation just days after U.S. troops pulled back from the area.

Thousands of people fled the Syrian town of Ras al Ain toward Hasaka province, held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. The Turkish air strikes had killed two civilians and wounded two others, the SDF said.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, announcing the start of the action, said the aim was to eliminate what he called a “terror corridor” on Turkey’s southern border.

Smoke rises from the Syrian side of the border as it is pictured from the Turkish town of Akcakale in Sanliurfa province, Turkey. Photo: Reuters.

But U.S. President Donald Trump, who ordered the U.S. pullout last week in an abrupt policy shift, said the offensive was “a bad idea” and he did not endorse it. He expected Turkey to protect civilians and religious minorities and to prevent a humanitarian crisis, he said.

READ MORE: Trump's Allies Are Turning On Him Over Troop Withdrawal From Syria

European countries called on Ankara to halt the operation and Egypt called it “a blatant and unacceptable attack on a brotherly Arab state”.

Turkey had been poised to enter northeast Syria since the U.S. troops who had been fighting with Kurdish-led forces against Islamic State started to leave in what Trump critics called a betrayal of Washington’s allies.

Another angle of Akcakale, Turkey. Photo: Haberturk / Reuters.

A Turkish security source told Reuters the military offensive, dubbed “Operation Peace Spring”, opened with air strikes. Turkish howitzer fire then hit bases and ammunition depots of the Kurdish YPG militia.

READ MORE: 'Disaster In The Making': Turkish Military Advance On Syria As US Pulls Out

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

A Reuters cameraman in the Turkish town of Akcakale saw several explosions across the border in the Syrian town of Tel Abyad. A witness said people were fleeing en masse.

A Turkish military convoy is pictured in Kilis near the Turkish-Syrian border, Turkey, October 9, 2019. Photo: Reuters.

Explosions also rocked Ras al Ain, just across the border from the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar, a CNN Turk reporter said. The sound of warplanes could he heard above and smoke was rising from buildings in Ras al Ain, he said.

The SDF said military positions and civilians in the city of Qamishli and the town of Ain Issa - more than 30 km inside Syria - had been hit, and said there were initial reports of civilian casualties.

Turkish media said mortar and rocket fire from Syria struck the Turkish border towns of Ceylanpinar and Nusaybin. There were no immediate reports of casualties there.

From Akcakale, the red flare of rockets could be seen being fired after dark across the border to Tel Abyad, as well as flames near the town. In Ras al Ain, burning tyres sent black columns of smoke into the sky, in an apparent effort to thwart attacks.