Mortars kill boy (12) as Kurdish towns under intense fire
Turkish mortars killed one 12-year-old boy and ripped off a young girl's leg yesterday as Turkey pummelled Kurdish-held towns on the second day of its assault on northern Syria.
Muhammad Yusuf Hussein and his seven-year-old sister Sarah were hit in a strike on Qamishli, the de facto capital of the unrecognised Kurdish statelet of Rojava. On the other side of the border, Turkish authorities said four children including a nine-month-old baby had been killed in retaliatory fire.
They were the youngest of at least 15 civilians killed in artillery and air strikes on a large swathe of territory controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led militia.
Witnesses said there was intense shelling in both directions around Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad, the two key border towns that anchor a 60-mile stretch of border in which Turkey is making its main assault.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, claimed 109 "terrorists" were killed in the offensive, a reference to the Syrian Kurdish fighters. Taking aim at the European Union and Arab powers Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which have voiced opposition to the operation, Mr Erdogan said those objecting to Turkey's actions were dishonest.
He threatened to permit Syrian refugees in Turkey to move to Europe if EU countries described his forces' move as an occupation. Turkey is hosting around 3.6 million people who have fled the conflict in Syria.
The SDF struck a defiant note, saying claims Turkey had made any advance east of the Euphrates were false. It also said it had defeated attacks on villages by Isil sleeper cells taking advantage of the Turkish offensive.
But by late afternoon, the sheer weight and technical superiority of Turkey's Nato-standard army was beginning to tell.
Turkish troops and allied Syrian rebel groups backed by aircraft and tanks seized key roads and villages around both cities. "Attacks were carried out from three sides. Turkish planes have been striking from the air. At the same time, their heavy weapons haven't stopped," said a source.
The National Army, a Turkish-backed Syrian rebel group taking part in the offensive, claimed both cities were surrounded. The claim could not immediately be confirmed.
In a sign that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's Russian-backed forces would not oppose the offensive, a minister described the SDF as "separatists" who had provided Turkey with a pretext for the attack. Asked whether Damascus would resume dialogue with the Kurdish-led forces, Faisal Maqdad, the deputy foreign minister, rejected the suggestion and called them "armed groups who had betrayed their country and committed crimes against it".
Turkish officials said six civilians, including the children, had been killed on the Turkish side of the border.
Countries lined up to criticise the Turkish offensive. Emmanuel Macron, the French president, said: "Turkey is today forgetting that the priority of the international community in Syria is the fight against Daesh and terrorism.
"It is creating a humanitarian risk for millions of people."