Turkey steps up Syria assault against Kurdish forces causing thousands to flee

10 October 2019, 15:38 | Updated: 10 October 2019, 19:25

Turkey has stepped up its ground and air offensive against Kurdish militia in northern Syria, forcing thousands to flee.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that so far, more than 100 "terrorists" had been killed in the fighting, although casualty reports from the area did not support his claim.

Meanwhile, Turkish officials say two children and their mother have been killed by incoming mortar fire from Kurdish-held positions.

International aid agencies are warning of an escalating humanitarian crisis in the region.

Ankara launched its military operation on Wednesday after Donald Trump pulled out American troops from alongside their Kurdish allies.

The decision marked a shift in the position of the US president, who last year vowed to stand by the Kurds, saying they "fought with us" and "died with us".

The U-turn drew swift criticism from both Republicans and Democrats in Washington as well as from defence experts.

Kurdish forces have halted all operations against Islamic State in order to focus on battling Turkish troops, according to Kurdish and US officials.

Syrian Kurdish fighters had, along with US forces, been tackling the remnants of IS, after the terror group was defeated earlier this year.

Urging moderation by Turkey during its assault, Mr Trump warned Ankara that it would be hit hard financially if it did not "play by the rules".

Writing on Twitter, the US president said: "I am trying to end the ENDLESS WARS. Talking to both sides.

"I say hit Turkey very hard financially & with sanctions if they don't play by the rules! I am watching closely."

The Turkish military said its jets and artillery had so far struck 181 targets.

But Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said their fighters had repelled Turkish ground attacks.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 60,000 people have fled their homes since the offensive started.

The UN also estimates tens of thousands have been displaced and has called on all the warring parties to respect international humanitarian law, including providing access for aid agencies.

Mr Erdogan has warned the EU against calling his regime's advance into Syria an "invasion", threatening, as he has in the past, to "open the gates" and let Syrian refugees flood into Europe.

Ankara deems members of the Kurdish militia to be "terrorists" because of their links to the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which has led an insurgency against Turkey for 35 years, killing tens of thousands.

The US and other Western countries also consider the PKK a terrorist group.

Turkey considers its operations against the Kurdish militia in Syria a matter of survival, and insists it will not tolerate the virtual self-rule that the Kurds succeeded in carving out in northern Syria along the border.

Ankara wants to create a corridor - a so-called "safe zone" - clearing out the Kurdish forces.

This would end the Kurds' autonomy in the area and put much of their population under Turkish control.

Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has said the military intends to move 19 miles (30km) into northern Syria and that its operation would continue until all "terrorists are neutralised."

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he had spoken with Mr Cavusoglu to express "disappointment and concern" about the incursion and call for restraint.

He argued the "the intervention risks greater humanitarian suffering and undermines the focus on countering" the activities of IS.