Turkish warplanes stuck residential parts of Syria’s Afrin on Saturday, forcing people to hole up in their homes and shelters, as Ankara launched an offensive to smash positions held by US-backed Kurdish forces.
Hevi Mustafa, a top member of the civilian administration that governs the city in the northwest of Syria, said several wounded people had arrived in the hospitals.
"As of this moment our brave armed forces have started the aerial offensive to eliminate the PYD and PKK and Daesh elements in Afrin," said Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said, referring to the Kurdish Democratic Union Party and the Kurdistan Worker’s Party respectively, and using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.
Associated Press journalists at the Turkish border saw at least five jets heading toward Afrin. They also witnessed a convoy of buses, believed to be carrying Syrian opposition fighters, traveling along the border across from Afrin. The convoy included trucks mounted with machine guns.
A senior Turkish official said the jets hit positions held by US-backed SDF militias. The militias had said any attack would be “sudden and unjustified” and “breathe new life” into Islamic State.
Turkey has been shelling the area for two days, while Syria had warned it would shoot down any Turkish planes over its territory.
Ankara, which claims the offensive will provide safety to its Turkey’s borders and the region, informed foreign governments involved in Syria about the attack, which began at 5pm local time and has been codenamed Operation Olive Branch.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has discussed Turkey’s military offensive in Syria with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Separately, Turkey’s chief of military staff Hulusi Akar spoke with his US and Russian counterparts, Turkish media reports said.
Ministry officials said Saturday Tillerson requested a telephone conversation with Cavusoglu. They did not provide further details.
Graphic: Areas of control in Syria
Saturday’s attack follows Turkish anger at a US announcement of plans to create a 30,000 Kurdish-led "border security force" along the border of Turkey. Tillerson later said the US plans were "misrepresented," in an apparent bid to appease Turkey.
Russia has removed its military observers from the Kurdish-run city. Moscow has said it will demand Turkey halt military operation in Afrin in support of its Syrian allies.
At 7.30pm local time, Russia pulled back troops deployed close to Afrin to Tell-Afjar, which is within the de-escalation zone established in September.
The Defence Ministry said the decisions was made “to prevent possible provocations” and to “exclude the threat to life and health of Russian servicemen”.
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Rojhat Roj, a spokesman for the Syrian Kurdish militia group, confirmed that a Turkish plane struck Afrin city.