The Syrian government condemned Wednesday’s Turkish incursion into the Islamic State group-held border district of Jarabulus as a “flagrant violation” of its sovereignty.
The Foreign Ministry said it “condemns the crossing of the Turkey-Syria border by Turkish tanks and armored vehicles towards the town of Jarabulus with air cover from the US-led coalition and considers it a flagrant violation of Syrian sovereignty.”
Syria’s state news network Sana quoted a Foreign Ministry source who said “any party that wishes to fight terrorism on Syrian land must coordinate with the Syrian government and army.”
The source added: “What is happening in Jarabulus now is not a fight against terrorism like Turkey claims; rather it is a substituting one form of terrorism with another in its place.”
Turkey’s military launched an operation before dawn Wednesday to clear a Syrian border town of its Islamic State militants, and the country’s state-run news agency said Turkish tanks had crossed into Syria as part of the offensive.
In its report, the Turkish Anadolu Agency, which cited unnamed military officials, did not say how many tanks entered Syria. The private NTV television said as many as 20 tanks had crossed into Syria and that clashes were taking place at the border. Earlier in the day, NTV said that a small number of Turkish special forces had crossed into Syria as part of the operation.
NTV television said it was an “intruder mission” to carry out “pinpoint operations” against IS as part of the operation to clear the town of Jarablus of the extremists.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the Turkish operation inside Syrian territory was aimed not just against jihadists but also Kurdish militia and should permanently put an end to problems on the border.
“From 4:00 am (0100 GMT) our forces began an operation against the Daesh (IS) and PYD (Kurdish Democratic Union Party) terror groups,” Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara, adding the move was aimed at “putting an end” to problems on the border.
As he spoke, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported that pro-Ankara Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels had already penetrated three kilometers (two miles) inside Syria toward the IS-held town of Jarabulus.
Jarablus, which lies on the western bank of the Euphrates River where it crosses from Turkey into Syria, is one of the last important IS-held towns standing between Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Syria.
Located 20 miles (33 kilometers) from the town of Manbij, which was liberated from IS by Kurdish-led forces earlier this month, taking control of Jarablus and the IS-held town of al-Bab to the south would be a significant step toward linking up border areas under Kurdish control east and west of the Euphrates River.
In recent days Turkey has increased security measures on its border with Syria, deploying tanks and armored personnel carriers. On Tuesday, residents of the Turkish town of Karkamis, across the border from Jarablus, were told to evacuate after three mortars believed to be fired by IS militants landed there, Turkey’s Dogan news agency said.
Turkey has vowed to fight IS militants at home and to “cleanse” the group from its borders after a weekend suicide bombing at a Kurdish wedding in southern Turkey killed at least 54 people, many of them children. Turkish officials have blamed IS for the attack.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.