Turkish warplanes have launched airstrikes against a U.S.-backed Kurdish militia in the Syrian enclave of Afrin.
Turkey says the offensive, which was expected, struck more than 100 targets, including the city of Afrin itself. The city has several hundred thousand residents.
The airstrikes were aimed at positions occupied by the YPG Kurdish militia. Ankara accuses the militia of ties to the Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the offensive before it began. He said it would “clear our land up to the Iraqi border” of what he called “terror filth that is trying to besiege our country.”
Erdogan warned that, after Afrin, the Turkish military would target the YPG in the Syrian city of Manbij, where U.S. forces are deployed.
The U.S. backs the YPG in its fight against Islamic State militants. Washington has announced the intention to create a security force in Syria in conjunction with the YPG. The announcement has provoked outrage in Turkey.
The Syrian government has condemned the Turkish airstrikes, calling them “aggression” and a “brutal attack.”
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, on Saturday. The State Department did not provide details on what was said.
Last week the U.S. government urged Turkey not to attack the YPG. Russia, too, has called for restraint. Moscow says it will defend Syria’s territorial integrity diplomatically.
Russia, UN also weigh in
The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement Saturday that it received the information about the airstrikes “with concern” and added it is closely monitoring the situation.
Russia repeated its position that the search for solutions be based on preserving Syria’s territorial integrity, respect for its sovereignty, and pursuing a long-term political settlement.
On Friday, Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said the U.N. has seen the reports of shelling in Afrin and reiterates the call on all concerned parties to avoid further escalation and any acts that could deepen the suffering of the Syrian people.
“All parties must ensure protection of civilians at all times, under any circumstances,” he said.
Political solution in danger
Shahoz Hasan, head of Syria’s main Kurdish political party, told VOA Saturday that the Turkish operation could get in the way of a political solution in Syria.
He said the people of Afrin were among those who helped defeat Islamic State militants in Syria. He said the world now needs to look after the people of Afrin.
VOA’s Turkish service contributed to this report.