Thousands of civilians fled the Turkish-Syrian border area in panic as artillery and mortars joined the aerial raids. Turkish bombing had killed three Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters and at least five civilians last night it was claimed. And SDF forces in north-east Syria clashed with the Turkish military along the border.
Military official for the SDF, Marvan Qamishlo, said: “The clashes are ongoing almost along the entire border. The SDF is responding.”
Fierce Turkish bombing hit the town of Ras al-Ain supported by artillery and howitzer fire.
Pictures and video footage from the ground appeared to show civilians desperately fleeing the area as clouds of smoke rose from the positions targeted by Turkish jets.
Mass evacuations also took place in the border town of Tal Abyad.
Images posted on social media from across Syria showed people with their children fleeing in trucks piled high with their possessions.
In Akcakale, Turkey, just yards across the border from Tel Abyad, schools were closed and children played in the streets, waving flags and cheering a convoy of armoured personnel carriers.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan unleashed Operation Peace Spring days after Donald Trump controversially pulled US troops out of north-east Syria.
Kurdish forces, who have lost about 11,000 men in the fight against IS, branded Mr Trump’s decision as a “stab in the back” because it left them exposed to the Turks.
The US President yesterday hit back and said: “The United States does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea.
“Turkey has committed to protecting civilians, protecting religious minorities, including Christians, and ensuring no humanitarian crisis takes place and we will hold them to this commitment.”
The Kurds said they had already stopped operations against IS in Syria in the face of the huge Turkish military build-up along the border and start of the offensive.
The action also raises doubts about whether the Kurds will be able to continue holding more than 12,000 prisoners suspected of being IS fighters, including at least 4,000 foreign nationals.
The Turks see Kurdish YPG fighters in north-east Syria as terrorists because of their ties to Kurdish militants waging an insurgency inside Turkey.
Mr Erdogan said the aim of the offensive is to create a “safe zone” by clearing Kurdish militias out of a “terror corridor” on Turkey’s southern border.
He also plans to replace the Kurds with about two million Syrian refugees currently in Turkey.
Mr Erdogan’s communications director Fahrettin Altun said Turkey was taking over leadership of the fight against Islamic State in Syria and YPG fighters could either defect or Ankara would have to “stop them from disrupting our counter-Islamic State efforts”.
The Kurdish-led authority in northern Syria declared a state of “general mobilisation” before the attack.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab voiced British fears. He said: “I have serious concerns about the unilateral military action that Turkey has taken.
“This risks destabilising the region, exacerbating humanitarian suffering and undermining the progress made against Daesh [IS], which should be our collective focus.
“Turkey has shown considerable generosity in hosting so many Syrian refugees.
“But we will not support plans for returns until the conditions are in place for a voluntary and safe return home.”