ISTANBUL, Turkey: Dozens of people were killed in Turkish bombardments in Syria on late Sunday as Ankara ramped up its unprecedented offensive against the Islamic State group and Kurdish militants.
Ankara said it had killed 25 Kurdish “terrorists” and insisted the army was doing everything possible to avoid civilian casualties.
But the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 40 civilians were killed in Turkish shelling and air strikes on two areas held by pro-Kurdish forces in northern Syria, the first report of significant civilian casualties in Turkey’s operation.
The bombardments came after Ankara suffered its first military fatality in the two-pronged offensive against IS and the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia.
Addressing a rally in the southern city of Gaziantep, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to combat the jihadists and the US-backed Kurdish fighters “with the same determination.”
“We will make any kind of contribution to the work to clear Daesh [IS] from Syria,” Erdogan told thousands of flag-waving supporters in the city where a suicide bomber suspected of IS links blew himself up at a wedding party last weekend.
Regarding “the PYD [Democratic Union Party] terror group in Syria, we have just the same determination,” Erdogan said, referring to the main pro-Kurdish party in northern Syria and its YPG militia.
On Sunday, Turkish forces ramped up their offensive against pro-Kurdish forces near a town wrested back from IS this week by Turkish-backed Arab rebels.
According to the Observatory, Turkish artillery fire and air strikes on Jeb el-Kussa village killed at least 20 civilians and wounded 50 others. Another 20 were killed and 25 wounded in air strikes near the town of Al-Amarneh, it said.
The monitor also said at least four Kurdish fighters were killed and 15 wounded in the two areas.
Turkey said the dead were 25 “terrorists” from the YPG and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), state-run Anadolu news agency said.
“All possible measures are being taken to prevent harm to the civilian population living in the area,” the army said, quoted by Anadolu.
Sunday’s operations took Turkey deeper inside Syria, into an area where the Kurdish forces that control much of the border had begun to expand.
Jeb el-Kussa is located 14 kilometers [almost nine miles]south of Jarabulus, the IS border stronghold which Turkish-backed Arab rebels captured on the first day of the incursion.
The rebels say they have captured at least nine towns and villages, including Jarabulus, from IS and Kurdish forces since Wednesday.
In a statement on Saturday, Kurdish forces accused Ankara of seeking to “expand its occupation” inside Syria.