BEIRUT/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Women affiliated with ISIS and their children fled en masse from a camp where they were being held in northern Syria on Sunday after shelling by Turkish forces in a five-day-old offensive, the region’s Kurdish-led administration said.
Turkey’s cross-border attack in northern Syria against Kurdish forces widened to target the town of Suluk which was hit by Ankara’s Syrian rebel allies. There were conflicting accounts on the outcome of the fighting.
Turkey is facing threats of possible sanctions from the United States unless it calls off the incursion. Two of its NATO allies, Germany and France, have said they are halting weapons exports to Turkey. The Arab League has denounced the operation.
Ankara launched the assault against the Kurdish YPG militia after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew some U.S. troops from the border region. Ankara says the YPG is a terrorist group aligned with Kurdish militants waging an insurgency in Turkey.
Turkey’s stated objective is to set up a “safe zone” inside Syria to resettle many of the 3.6 million Syrian war refugees it has been hosting. President Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to send them to Europe if the EU does not back his assault.
But the Turkish incursion has raised international alarm over large-scale displacements of civilians and, amidst the upheaval, the possibility of ISIS militants escaping from prisons run by the Kurdish-led authorities.