Turkish shelling and air strikes killed at least 40 Syrians today, a monitor said, in the first significant civilian casualties in Turkey’s intensifying campaign in northern Syria.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency said the army had killed 25 Kurdish “terrorists” in air strikes as part of its unprecedented operation inside Syria.
The bombardments came after Ankara suffered its first military fatality since it launched the two-pronged offensive against the Islamic State group and Syrian Kurdish militia inside Syria on Wednesday.
At least 20 civilians were killed and 50 wounded in Turkish artillery fire and air strikes on the village of Jeb el-Kussa early today, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said. Another 20 were killed and 25 wounded, many seriously, in Turkish air strikes near the town of Al-Amarneh, it said.
The monitor also said at least four Kurdish fighters had been killed and 15 injured in Turkish bombardment of the two areas. A spokesman for the local Kurdish administration said 75 people had been killed in both villages.
The Britain-based Observatory said the bombardment targeted an area south of the former IS border stronghold of Jarabulus, which Turkish-led forces captured on the first day of the incursion.
Fighting has since intensified south of the town, where clashes erupted between Turkish troops and forces belonging to the Kurdish Democratic Union (PYD) party, which Ankara considers a terrorist group linked with Kurdish militants in Turkey.
US-backed Kurdish forces have also been fighting IS in Syria but Turkey fiercely opposes any move by Kurds to expand into territory lost by the jihadists.
The latest fighting is likely to raise deep concerns for Turkey’s NATO ally the United States, which supports the Kurdish militia—known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG) -- as an effective fighting force against IS.
The Turkish soldier was killed and three more wounded yesterday in a rocket attack by Kurdish militia on two tanks taking part in an offensive against the pro-Kurdish forces south of Jarabulus. Turkish media named the dead soldier as Ercan Celik, 28, and said a funeral for him would be held in Gaziantep.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was due to visit the city to express condolences for last weekend’s suicide bombing there at a Kurdish wedding that left 54 dead.
Turkey’s NTV television reported that Turkish artillery had struck YPG targets throughout the night and that Turkish warplanes had carried out new bombing sorties this morning.
Turkish forces carried out their first air strikes on pro-Kurdish positions yesterday as part of what Ankara is calling “Operation Euphrates Shield”.