Smoke billows from targets inside Syria during bombardment by Turkish forces Thursday. -AP
As Turkey's military incursion into Syria continues, President Donald Trump is telling reporters the US has only two choices: Hit Ankara hard with financial sanctions or send in US troops to stop the fighting between Turkish and Kurdish forces.
Trump says Turkey knows he does not support the invasion. But he also says he doesn't think the American people want to send troops there. He is telling reporters, "I hope we can mediate." Earlier Trump tweeted a third option: "Mediate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds!"
The president has been roundly criticized by Democrats and Republicans for moving U.S. troops back from northern Syria so they would not get harmed during the planned incursion against the Kurds, whom Turkey's government see as terrorists.
A divided UN Security Council has failed to agree on a statement following a closed meeting on Turkey's incursion into northeast Syria. The five European council members who called Thursday's meeting there are 15 member countries urged Turkey in a joint statement afterward "to cease the unilateral military action." They say it threatens progress against the extremist Islamic State group by a global coalition.
The Europeans warned that "renewed armed hostilities in the northeast will further undermine the stability of the whole region, exacerbate civilian suffering and provoke further displacements." Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, whose country is a key Syrian ally, told reporters that any council statement on Syria must address broader issues, including the presence of foreign forces in the country.
US Ambassador Kelly Craft told reporters that President Donald Trump "has made abundantly clear" that the United States "has not in any way" endorsed Turkey's decision to mount a military incursion in northeast Syria.
Media activists and a war monitor say Kurdish forces have clashed with Turkey-backed Syrian fighters inside a Kurdish-dominated town along the Turkish-Syrian border after a three-pronged attack.
A member of the Kurdish forces confirmed the fighting Thursday, adding that the Turkey-backed fighters are attempting to advance on the town of Ras al-Ayn. The town near the border is predominantly Kurdish and is one of the few main urban centers under the Kurdish-led administration. A native of the town said his family was able to escape earlier Thursday before the Turkey-backed assault.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said an attack on the highway south of Ras al-Ayn came before the Turkey-backed fighters advanced from the town's east and west.
North Press Agency, a media group operating in Kurdish-held areas, also reported the clashes on the western and eastern flanks of the town. NATO's secretary-general is urging alliance-member Turkey to show "restraint" in its military push into northern Syria, adding that the common enemy in the region is still the Islamic State group.
Jens Stoltenberg avoided any direct criticism of the Turkish incursion, repeating a previous call on Ankara to "ensure that (its) actions in northern Syria are measured and proportionate and avoid even more human suffering."
Stoltenberg spoke of the need to "continue to stand together in our common fight against the common enemy," the Islamic State group. While enormous progress has been made against the group, he said, "we must make sure that we preserve those gains."
He spoke in Athens on Thursday after a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Stoltenberg will meet Turkey's leader in Istanbul on Friday. Turkey's Defense Ministry says 174 "terrorists" have been "neutralized" in its cross-border military offensive, referring to Syrian Kurdish fighters.
The ministry tweeted Thursday that the number includes 19 alleged fighters killed in an airstrike on a shelter used by the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, in Ras al-Ayn. The numbers could not be independently verified.
Turkey considers the YPG a terror organization linked to a Kurdish insurgency at home and has declared the military offensive, launched Wednesday, necessary for national security. French President Emmanuel Macron "strongly" condemns the Turkish offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria.
In his first reaction after the beginning of the military operation, Macron, speaking at a news conference in Lyon, France, said "I call upon Turkey to put an end to it as soon as possible." He stressed the international community's priority is to fight against the IS Group and terrorism.
He warned that Turkey is running "on its own" the risk of "helping Daesh rebuild a caliphate" and "a humanitarian risk for millions of people A Turkish provincial governor's office says two children and their mother have been killed by mortar fire from Syria into Turkey.
The governor's office of Mardin province on the Turkey-Syria border said in a statement Thursday the girls were aged 12 and 15. It said 24 others were wounded.
The statement follows a separate announcement from neighboring Sanliurfa province, where a 9-month-old boy, an 11-year-old girl and an adult male were killed in mortar attacks. The Turkish Defense ministry tweeted that it hit targets in Syria in retaliation.
Mortar attacks from Kurdish-held northeastern Syria have increased significantly since Turkey launched a military offensive into the area Wednesday. Turkey's foreign minister says Turkish troops intend to move some 30 kilometers (19 miles) deep into northern Syria and that its operation will last until all "terrorists are neutralized," a reference to Syrian Kurdish fighters.
Briefing a small group of journalists on Thursday, Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkish troops and Syrian opposition fighters would be strengthened with more security force officers, including police, if needed. He did not comment on how many troops had crossed the border or how many jets were involved in the offensive.
The minister reiterated that Turkey aimed to create a safe zone that would allow the "voluntary" and "safe" return of Syrian refugees or displaced people.
Asked to comment on statements from European leaders criticizing Turkey's incursion and suggestions that the EU would not fund Turkey's plans for a safe zone, Cavusoglu said: "In this case we'd better let them, EU countries, take those refugees."
"The majority of them if we allow them today are ready to go to European destinations," he said. "If the EU and European countries don't want to work with Turkey then it will be their problem as well."
The minister said Turkey would take control of Islamic State prisons situated within the intended safe zone, but not those that lie farther south. Turkish officials say a 9-month-old baby and a Turkish civil servant have been killed after mortars were fired from Kurdish-held northern Syria into Turkish border towns.
The governor's office of Sanliurfa province said in a statement Thursday the baby was of Syrian nationality. It said 46 people were wounded in the rocket and mortar attacks. At least five Turkish border towns have been hit by dozens of mortars since Wednesday.
Turkey has pointed to past cross-border mortar attacks by Syrian Kurdish militants as a threat to its national security. Bosnia says renewed fighting in Syria has delayed the deportation to the Balkan country of a group of its citizens who were captured while fighting for the Islamic State group.
Security Minister Dragan Mektic says the first group was due to arrive Thursday but that this has been postponed "because of the events of the past 24 hours and new circumstances in Syria." He gave no other details. Dozens of Bosnia's Muslims have joined IS in Syria and Iraq during the war. Bosnian media say nine captives from Bosnia will be sent back to face legal proceedings.
Turkey launched an invasion of northeastern Syria on Wednesday after US troops pulled back from the area, paving the way for Turkey's assault on Syrian Kurdish forces.
Thursday's statement co-signed by the organizations including Doctors of the World, Oxfam and the Norwegian Refugee Council said an estimated 450,000 people live within 5 kilometers (3 miles) of the Syria's border with Turkey "and are at risk if all sides do not exercise maximum restraint and prioritize the protection of civilians." I
t added there already are more than 90,000 internally displaced people in the region, and tens of thousands of fighters with families held in camps and detention centers.
The aid agencies also are urging parties to the conflict to respect International Humanitarian Law and refrain from using explosive weapons in populated areas.
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