BEIRUT – Turkish troops and U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters exchanged heavy shellfire on Tuesday in the northern Syrian border town of Kobane, leaving one civilian dead as the conflict escalated.
In Sanliurfa province on the Turkish side of the frontier, some 25 km (16 miles) west of Kobane, a Turkish soldier was killed and four were wounded in a mortar attack on a military border post, Turkey’s defence ministry said.
The artillery salvoes in Kobane hit within the town and around its edges, starting overnight and intensifying throughout the day, according to residents and the semi-autonomous local administration governing the town.
The administration said in an online statement that at least one child died due to the shelling and a number of other people were wounded.
Ankara regards the semi-autonomous system – which is spearheaded by Kurdish factions and governs swathes of northern and eastern Syria – as a national security threat on its border.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has pledged a new incursion to create a 30-kilometer safe zone in northern Syria, swallowing up Kobane and other towns held by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.
Following the mortar attack in the Sanliurfa region, Turkish forces conducted retaliatory fire against targets in the region, Ankara’s defence ministry said in a statement.
“According to initial information in the region, 13 terrorists were neutralised. Operations in the region are continuing,” it said. “Neutralised” usually means killed but could also mean wounded or captured.
A Turkish official said the Kurdish YPG militia, a key force within the SDF, had carried out the mortar attack. Ankara considers the YPG a terrorist group.
Kobane has been relatively calm since U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters pushed back Islamic State militants from the town in 2015.
But shelling and drone attacks have been ramping up in many border towns recently. At least three Kurdish commanders were killed last month in attacks the SDF blamed on Ankara.
Dilvin, a shopkeeper and married mother of one, said chaos broke out in Kobane when the shelling intensified on Tuesday.
“People started running everywhere, cars everywhere, people asking about their friends and their family. Then the sounds started to build, the sounds were everywhere,” she told Reuters by phone from Kobane.
“There was so much screaming. So much fear. Now everyone is locked up at home,” said Dilvin, who preferred to identify herself with just a first name for security reasons.
(Reporting by Maya Gebeily in Beirut, Ece Toksabay in Ankara, Daren Butler in Istanbul, editing by Ed Osmond and Mark Heinrich)