Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara would not stop its military operation in northern Syria despite widespread criticism.
He pointed out that the operation is not aimed at Kurdish citizens, but rather “terrorist” organizations, including the Islamic State.
He insisted that his country was continuing the military operation until it removed Kurdish militants and other armed groups from the border areas and established a “safe area.”
According to Erdogan, the attack will provide “security and peace” for nearly 4 million refugees currently living inside Turkish territory.
As fighting intensified over recent days, dozens of people were killed. Three Turkish soldiers and 10 civilians were reportedly killed on the Turkish side in the third day of the military operation.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Washington had not abandoned the Kurds, warning of “serious consequences” if Ankara did not halt its operations.
Dozens of fighters from both the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Syrian-backed militants from Turkey fell.
At least five people, including a Syrian child, were reportedly killed by shelling of Kurdish militants on Turkish border areas.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed that at least 29 people were killed among the SDF and 17 pro-Turkish Syrian militants in the Free Syrian Army, as well as more than a dozen villages in the hands of the Turks.
International concern about the Turkish Military Operation in Syria
International estimates indicate that nearly 100,000 people have fled their homes within the border area, amid growing calls from international organizations to stop the Turkish attack.
The UN Security Council discussed the situation on Thursday, at the request of the five EU member states currently Britain, France, Germany, Belgium and Poland, which are demanding that Turkey halt its military offensive.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed “deep concern” at the escalating violence.
In a meeting Friday with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he was “very concerned” about what was going on.
Stoltenberg called on NATO member Turkey to “exercise restraint.”
Erdogan has threatened to open the way for some 3.6 million Syrian refugees to Europe if the Turkish attack is described as “occupation”.
Turkey says its plan is to create a “safe zone” free of Kurdish militants where Syrian refugees can live, but critics say it could lead to “ethnic cleansing” of Kurds in northern Syria and attract Islamic State militants to the area.
Republican lawmakers also announced plans to introduce a bill to impose sanctions on Turkey, and US President Donald Trump offered to mediate.
Turkish troops began moving on Wednesday after Trump pulled US troops out of the area.
Ankara considers Kurdish militias in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which controls the border areas, “terrorist” forces and accuses them of supporting armed actions against Turkey and linked to the PKK, which is classified by Ankara, the United States and the European Union as a “terrorist” organization
The SDF coalition is one of the United States’ key allies in the war against IS.
But the coalition accused Trump of “stabbing him in the back” when he decided to withdraw US troops from Syria.
The SDF says it has more than 12,000 ISIS operatives in seven prisons, including at least 4,000 foreign nationals. The exact locations of these prisons have been uncovered, and some are reportedly close to the Turkish border.
It is unclear whether Kurdish guerrillas will continue to guard the jails.
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