Turkish forces stepped up their bombardment around a town in northeast Syria on Saturday, the fourth day of an offensive against a Kurdish militia after United States troops in the region came under artillery fire from Turkish positions.
The United States has ramped up its efforts to persuade Ankara to halt the incursion against the US-backed Kurdish forces, saying Ankara was causing “great harm” to ties and could face sanctions.
Turkey opened its offensive after US President Donald Trump spoke by phone on Sunday with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan and withdrew U.S. troops who had been fighting alongside Kurdish forces.
On Friday evening, Erdogan dismissed mounting international criticism of the operation and said Turkey “will not stop it, no matter what anyone says”.
On the frontlines, thick plumes of smoke rose around Syria’s Ras al-Ain, one of two border towns targeted in the offensive, as Turkish artillery targeted the area on Saturday, said a Reuters reporter across the frontier in the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar.
Intense gunfire also resounded from within the town of Ras al Ain itself, while warplanes could be heard flying overhead, he said.
It was quieter at Tel Abyad, the operation’s other main target some 120 km (75 miles) to the west, with only occasional shell fire heard in the area, another Reuters reporter said.
Earlier, the Pentagon said none of its soldiers were wounded in the Turkish artillery fire near Syria’s Kobani, some 60 km (37 miles) west of the main area of conflict.
Turkey’s Defence Ministry said its forces did not open fire at the U.S. base and took all precautions to prevent any harm to it while it was responding to fire from a nearby area by the Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara regards as a terrorist group.
A war monitor gave a death toll of more than 100 from the first days of the assault. The United Nations said 100,000 people had fled their homes.
On Saturday morning, Turkey’s Defence Ministry said that 415 YPG militants had been “neutralised” since the operation began, a term that commonly means killed.