•ANKARA • Turkey launched a military operation against Kurdish fighters in north-east Syria yesterday, with air strikes hitting the border town of Ras al-Ain.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, announcing the start of the action, said the aim was to eliminate what he called a "terror corridor" on Turkey's southern border.
A Turkish security source told Reuters that the military operation into Syria was launched with air strikes, and will be supported by artillery and howitzer fire.
Several large explosions rocked Ras al-Ain, just across the border from the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar, a CNN Turk reporter said, adding that the sound of planes could be heard above.
Smoke was rising from buildings in Ras al-Ain, he said.
World powers fear the action could open a new chapter in Syria's war and worsen regional turmoil.
Mr Erdogan earlier told Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call that the operation would help peace and stability in Syria.
But Syria said it was determined to confront any Turkish aggression by all legitimate means.
Turkey had been poised to advance into north-east Syria after US troops began vacating the area in an abrupt policy shift by US President Donald Trump widely criticised in Washington as a betrayal of America's Kurdish militia allies.
Ankara has said that it intends to create a "safe zone" in order to return millions of refugees to Syrian soil, but the scheme has alarmed some Western allies as much as the risks posed by the military operation itself.
For Turkey, which views Kurdish YPG fighters in north-east Syria as terrorists because of their ties to militants waging an insurgency inside Turkey, an influx of non-Kurdish Syrians would help it secure a buffer against its main security threat.
The Kurdish-led authority in northern Syria declared a state of "general mobilisation" in the light of the attack.
"We call on all our institutions, and our people in all their components, to head towards the border region with Turkey to fulfil their moral duty and show resistance in these sensitive, historic moments," it said in a statement.
Mr Erdogan's communications director Fahrettin Altun said YPG fighters could either defect or fight the Turkish forces, who he said were also taking over the battle against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group in Syria.
"The National Army forces are still preparing for the start of operations east of the Euphrates (River), and they have started moving to the front lines," National Army spokesman Youssef Hammoud said.
Previous Turkish operations backed by the rebels in Syria started with air operations, the spokesman added.
In Akcakale, across from Syria's Tel Abyad, howitzers were deployed behind earth embankments and pointed towards Syria, a Reuters witness said on Tuesday.
Multiple launch rocket systems were stationed in Suruc, some 60km to the west, opposite the Syrian border town of Kobani, he said.
Russia - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's strongest foreign ally - urged dialogue between Damascus and Syria's Kurds on resolving issues in north-east Syria, including border security.
"We heard statements yesterday both from Damascus officials and the Kurdish representatives that they are ready for such dialogue," Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters.
Kurdish-led forces said on Tuesday that they might start talks with the Syrian government and Russia to fill a security vacuum in the event of a full US troop withdrawal.
Another Assad ally, Iran, urged Turkey to show restraint and avoid military action in northern Syria, although it said Turkey was rightfully worried about its southern border.
US Defence Department spokes-man Jonathan Hoffman said: "Unfortunately, Turkey has chosen to act unilaterally. As a result, we have moved the US forces in northern Syria out of the path of potential Turkish incursion to ensure their safety."
Mr Trump's decision to pull back troops has rattled allies, including France and Britain, two of Washington's main partners in the US-led coalition fighting ISIS.