Turkish tanks cross into northern Syria via a border village on Sunday. Picture: REUTERS
Turkish tanks cross into northern Syria via a border village on Sunday. Picture: REUTERS

Ankara— Turkish Foreign minister issued a stern warning on Sunday that any group opposed to its military incursion into Kurdish-held northern Syria "would be treated as terrorists".

Earlier on Sunday, after Turkish ground forces pushed into Afrin province, France called for restraint and a UN emergency meeting. Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of an official visit to Iraq, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara expected France to support the fellow Nato member state’s operation.

Under what Ankara has called "Operation Olive Branch", Turkish forces  bombarded suspected YPG positions in Afrin with artillery and air strikes ahead of Sunday's ground assault, opening  a new front in the nearly seven-year-old Syrian war. 

The Syrian-Kurdish YPG militia, supported by the US but viewed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, said it had repulsed the Turkish forces and their allies after fierce clashes.

Turkey is targeting the US-backed fighters at a time when ties with ally Washington appear close to breaking point.

Turkey sees the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has carried out a deadly, three-decade insurgency in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast.

The US is backing the YPG in Syria, seeing it as an effective partner in the fight against Islamic State.

"Our jets took off and started bombing. And now, the ground operation is underway. Now we see how the YPG … are fleeing in Afrin," President Tayyip Erdogan said. "We will chase them. God willing, we will complete this operation very quickly."

Erdogan said some of Turkey’s allies had provided the YPG with 2,000 aircraft shipments and 5,000 truckloads of ammunition, comments that appeared to be aimed at the US.

The attacks follow weeks of warnings against the YPG in Syria from Erdogan and his ministers. Turkey has been particularly outraged by an announcement that the United States planned to train 30,000 personnel in parts of northeast Syria under the control of the YPG-spearheaded Syrian Democratic Forces.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the Turkish military, Nato’s second-largest, would create a 30km "safe zone" in the region, according to broadcaster HaberTurk.

Shelling, clashes

Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army rebel factions had captured a Kurdish village with no resistance and were clearing landmines, a Turkish official said.

The YPG said it had repulsed the Turkish forces.

"All the Turkish military’s ground attacks against Afrin have been repelled so far and they have been forced to retreat," Nouri Mahmoudi, a YPG official, said. Since the morning, the combatants have exchanged shelling and clashed along several frontlines around Afrin, he said.

Thousands rallied against the attacks in the border town of Amuda in northwest Syria, vowing to stand against "Turkish occupation", according to a local witness.

The Turkish military said it had hit 153 targets so far, including shelters and hideouts used by Kurdish militants. The YPG has said Turkey’s strikes killed six civilians and three of its fighters and wounded 13 civilians.

The YPG has also accused Turkey of striking civilian districts and a camp for the displaced in Afrin.