World

Turkey says more than 100 militants killed; more than 60,000 flee

ISTANBUL/ANKARA Turkish forces have killed more than 100 militants in an assault on Kurdish militia in north-east Syria, Turkey's President said yesterday, as heavy shelling and air strikes against targets in the region continued.

According to a senior Turkish security official, armed forces struck weapons and ammunition depots, gun and sniper positions, tunnels and military bases.

Jets conducted operations up to 30km into Syria, and a Reuters witness saw shells exploding just outside the town of Tel Abyad.

"The operation is currently continuing with the involvement of all our units... 109 terrorists have been killed so far," Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech to members of his AK Party in Ankara.

Thousands of people have fled Ras al Ain towards Hasaka province since the operation began.

The Turkish air strikes killed at least five civilians and three fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and wounded dozens of civilians, the SDF has said.

More than 60,000 people have fled in less than a day, a war monitor said yesterday.

Nato member Turkey has said it intends to create a "safe zone" for the return of millions of refugees to Syria.

But world powers fear the operation could intensify Syria's eight-year-old conflict, and runs the risk of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) prisoners escaping from camps amid the chaos.

Mr Erdogan sought to assuage those concerns, saying that militants from ISIS would not be allowed to rebuild a presence in the region.

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.

"They are not honest, they just make up words," he said in a combative speech, singling out Saudi Arabia and Egypt. "We, however, take action and that is the difference between us."

The Kurdish-led authority in northern Syria said a prison struck by Turkish shelling holds "the most dangerous criminals from more than 60 nationalities" and Turkey's attacks on its prisons risked "a catastrophe".

The Kurdish-led SDF holds thousands of ISIS fighters and tens of thousands of their relatives in detention.

There was no immediate comment on the situation in the prisons from Turkey. - REUTERS

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