Turkey launches Syria offensive with air strikes

Turkish warplanes have bombed parts of north-eastern Syria at the start of an offensive which could lead to conflict with Kurdish-led allies of the US.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the operation was to create a “safe zone” cleared of Kurdish militias which will also house Syrian refugees.

The strikes caused civilian casualties, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said.

Turkish ground forces have also been massing on the border.

The offensive was launched just days after President Donald Trump controversially withdrew US troops from northern Syria, a decision announced after a phone call with Mr Erdogan that sparked widespread criticism at home and abroad.

The Kurds – key US allies in defeating the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) in Syria – guard thousands of IS fighters and their relatives in prisons and camps in areas under their control and it is unclear whether they will continue to be safely detained.

On Twitter, Mr Erdogan said the mission “was to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area” and that it would “preserve Syria’s territorial integrity and liberate local communities from terrorists”.

Several large explosions were reported in the border town of Ras al-Ain while blasts were also heard in Tal Abyad, according to the Reuters news agency.

The SDF said two civilians had been killed in the village of Misharrafa, west of Ras al-Ain, and residents across the border area were “scared and a wave of displacement [had] started”.

Turkey wants to create a “safe zone” cleared of Kurdish militias – regarded by Ankara as terrorists – which will also house two million of Turkey’s 3.6 million Syrian refugees.

Police vehicles have been telling civilians to leave the area, and there were sounds of artillery fire and mortar rounds. There has been incoming mortar fire from just across the border but it has not reached Turkish territory.

President Erdogan says this is the beginning of Operation Peace Spring. There is no doubt that for the Syrian civilians who are just across the border, this is going to be seen as another round of battling in an agonisingly long war. -BBC

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