Home > World News > Turkey begins invasion of Syria as huge explosion hits border town

Turkey begins invasion of Syria as huge explosion hits border town

Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said the country’s military operation in north-east Syria has started.

There was mass panic on the streets as war planes flew overhead and several large explosions rocked the northeast Syrian town of Ras al Ain, on the border across from the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar, today.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said there are initial reports of civilians killed, Reuters reports.

While Al Jazeera reports the SDF said Turkish strikes on a village west of Ras al Ain has killed at least two civilians, leaving several others wounded.

The SDF, which is backed by the United States, said there was “huge panic among the people” after Turkish warplanes carried out airstrikes.

A witness in the Syrian town of Tel Abyad told Reuters that sounds of explosions rang out and smoke was rising nearby along the border with Turkey, as people fled the town en masse.

Pictures show artillery moving in on the ground, supporting the strikes by warplanes.

Meanwhile NTV reports two mortar shells have hit the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar. No casualties have yet been reported.

Erdoğan said Turkey, along with its Syrian rebel allies, aimed to eliminate a “terror corridor” along the southern Turkish border.

There was ‘mass panic’ among people on the ground (Image: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Multiple explosions have rocked the town (Image: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Erdoğan said the offensive, dubbed “Operation Peace Spring”, would aim to eliminate threats from the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia and the Islamic State militants, and enable the return of Syrian refugees in Turkey after the formation of a “safe zone” in the area.

This comes after Donald Trump pulled US troops back from Syria.

Smoke could be seen rising from buildings in Ras al Ain. Hundreds of civilians in northern Syria have fled areas on the border with Turkey.

Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said Turkish warplanes were targeting “civilian areas” in northern Syria, causing “a huge panic” in the region.

There were no independent reports, however, on what was being struck in the initial hours of the operation.

The Kurdish forces have asked the US for a ‘no fly zone’ (Image: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Turkish tanks flying the flag move in (Image: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Earlier on Wednesday, warning of a “humanitarian catastrophe”, Syrian Kurdish forces issued a general mobilisation call ahead of Turkey’s attack.

The Turkish operation would ignite new fighting in Syria’s eight-year-old war, potentially displacing hundreds of thousands of people.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human rights reported that people had begun fleeing the border town of Tal Abyad.

Kurdish politician Nawaf Khalil, who is in northern Syria, said some people were leaving the town for villages farther south.

Turkey has long threatened to attack the Kurdish fighters whom Ankara considers terrorists allied with a Kurdish insurgency in Turkey.

In a statement released on Twitter, Erdogan said: “Together with the Syrian National Army, our Turkish Armed Forces launched the #Barışpınarıharekatı the against the PKK / YPG and Deash terrorist organizations in northern Syria (sic).

“Our aim is to destroy the terror corridor which is trying to be established on our southern border and to bring peace and peace to the region.”

The Syrian National Army prepare for moving to Turkey with heavy armed vehicles (Image: STR/EPA-EFE/REX)
Turkey-backed members of Syrian National Army prepare for moving to Turkey with heavy armed vehicles for an expected military operation (Image: STR/EPA-EFE/REX)

Russian President Vladimir Putin told his Turkish counterpart by phone on Wednesday to avoid any steps in Syria that could damage its peace process, the Kremlin said.

The Kremlin said that both Putin and Erdoğan agreed in the phone call that Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected.

SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said on Twitter: “Turkish warplanes have started to carry out air strikes on civilian areas.”

Syrian state media and a Kurdish official separately said bombing hit the town of Ras al-Ain in the northeast along the Turkish border.

Vehicles have moved in along with artillery and war planes (Image: Getty Images)
US President Donald J. Trump announced the withdrawal of US troops from the area ahead of the anticipated action by Turkey (Image: STR/EPA-EFE/REX)

A Turkish security source confirmed that Turkish howitzers – a type of tank – have started hitting bases held by the Kurdish militia, the YPG, along with ammunition depots.

The SDF has asked the US coalition for a ‘no fly zone’ to stop the Turkish attacks.

Meanwhile the US ambassador to Ankara, the capital of Turkey, has been summoned to the foreign ministry to be briefed on the Turkish operation, CNN reports.

Britain has raised concerns over the situation after Trump announced US troops would withdraw.

UK minister Dr Murrison said military action “must be avoided as it would destabilise the region” and harm efforts to achieve the “enduring defeat of Daesh”.

Members of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army patrol the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria today (Image: Getty Images)
Turkish howitzers have moved in (Image: Sky News)

Speaking in Parliament, former minister Tobias Ellwood warned the situation was a “fundamental change in US foreign policy.”

He added: “These are not soldiers in uniform but radicalised extremists who are committed to pursuing their jihadist agenda.”

Trump previously warned that he would ‘obliterate’ the Turkish economy if the country invaded north-east Syria, which is largely held by American-backed Kurdish forces.

However, Washington appears to have subsequently softened its rhetoric, with a U.S Defense Department spokesman yesterday saying American troops were being withdrawn as a result of the anticipated Turkish strike.

The Turkish Defence Ministry said establishment of a safe zone is essential to contribute to stability and peace of the region and for Syrians.

The U.S. President threatened to destroy its economy if Ankara takes a planned military strike in Syria too far.

But the U.S. leader himself has opened the door for a Turkish incursion.

SNP foreign affairs spokesman Stephen Gethins accused President Trump of “betrayal” while Labour’s Emily Thornberry said he had “shamed his office”.

Turkey has repeatedly threatened to carry out an incursion against U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria who have links to Kurdish guerrillas operating next door in Turkey.

Soldiers have moved in en masse (Image: STR/EPA-EFE/REX)

The United States began pulling troops back from the northeast Syrian border on Monday, effectively giving Turkey a green light to move into the area.

Retired US Army Lt. Gen. Mark Hertlin told CNN Trump’s decision was “shameful”.

He said: “Today, anything is possible when these sorts of authoritarian governments have been given a green light by the US.”

The Kurds helped the US-backed coalition defeat ISIS and it is feared that their removal could lead to a return of the Jihadist terrorist organisation.

Turkey has long threatened to attack the Kurdish fighters whom Ankara considers terrorists allied with a Kurdish insurgency in Turkey.

A Turkish soldier patrols on the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria (Image: Getty Images)

Expectations of an invasion increased after Mr Trump’s announcement on Sunday, although he also threatened to “totally destroy and obliterate” Turkey’s economy if the Turkish push into Syria went too far.

Turkey has been massing troops for days along its border with Syria and vowed it would go ahead with the military operation and not bow to the US threat.

Mr Trump later cast his decision to pull back US troops from parts of north-east Syria as fulfilling a campaign promise to withdraw from the “endless war” in the Middle East.

On Wednesday, he defended his unpopular decision, saying he is focused on the “BIG PICTURE” that does not include American involvement in “stupid endless wars” in the Middle East.

“Fighting between various groups that has been going on for hundreds of years. USA should never have been in Middle East,” Mr Trump said in a series of morning tweets. “The stupid endless wars, for us, are ending!”

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Nato’s secretary-general has urged Turkey not to “further destabilise the region” through military action in northern Syria.

Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference in Rome that Turkey, a Nato ally, “has legitimate security concerns”, having suffered “horrendous terrorist attacks” and hosting thousands of refugees.

He said Nato has been informed about Turkey’s ongoing operation in northern Syria.

He added: “It is important to avoid actions that may further destabilise the region, escalate tensions and cause more human suffering.”

He said Turkey should act with “restraint” and any action should be “proportionate”.

Mr Stoltenberg will discuss the military action with Turkey’s leader on Friday in Istanbul.

Amnesty International issued a statement prior to Turkey launching its attack warning against sparking a “humanitarian catastrophe”

The statement said: “It is imperative that all parties to this conflict respect international humanitarian law, including by refraining from carrying out attacks on civilians and civilian objects, as well as indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks.

“The international community must take measures to ensure respect for international humanitarian law by the Turkish authorities and pro-Turkey armed groups and Kurdish forces if yet another humanitarian catastrophe in northern Syria is to be avoided.