Rouhani cautions: Only Syrian military can ensure border security
Turkey launched military operations against Kurdish militia in northeastern Syria on Wednesday after US forces withdrew from the area, with airstrikes hitting a border town.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the start of the campaign which followed an announcement Sunday by US President Donald Trump that American troops would step aside in a shift in US policy that essentially abandoned the Syrian Kurds.
Erdogan said the aim was to eliminate what he called a “terror corridor” on Turkey’s southern border.
"Our mission is to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area," Erdogan said in a tweet.
He added that Turkish troops, together with Syrian militants, had launched what they called "Operation Peace Spring" against Kurdish militia to eradicate what Erdogan called "the threat of terror" against Turkey.
TV reports in Turkey said its warplanes had bombed Syrian Kurdish positions across the border.
Turkish airstrikes hit he town of Ras al-Ayn on the Syrian side of the border, activists in Syria said.
Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said Turkish warplanes were targeting "civilian areas" in northern Syria, causing "a huge panic" in the region.
There were no independent reports, however, on what was being struck in the initial hours of the operation.
Earlier Wednesday, warning of a "humanitarian catastrophe." Syrian Kurdish forces who are allied with the United States issued a general mobilization call ahead of Turkey's attack.
The Turkish operation would ignite new fighting in Syria's 8-year-old war, potentially displacing hundreds of thousands of people, and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human rights reported that people had begun fleeing the border town of Tal Abyad.
Turkey has long threatened to attack the Kurdish militia whom Ankara considers terrorists allied with a Kurdish insurgency in Turkey.
Expectations of an invasion increased after Trump's announcement on Sunday, although he also threatened to "totally destroy and obliterate" Turkey's economy if the Turkish push into Syria went too far.
Turkey has been massing troops for days along its border with Syria and vowed it would go ahead with the military operation and not bow to the US threat.
Erdogan discussed plans for the incursion with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Erdogan's office said the Turkish president told his Russian counterpart by phone that the planned military action in the region east of the Euphrates River "will contribute to the peace and stability" and also "pave the way for a political process" in Syria.
In its call for a general mobilization, the local civilian Kurdish authority, also asked the international community to live up to its responsibilities as "a humanitarian catastrophe might befall our people."
Syria's Foreign Ministry condemned Turkey's plans for an invasion, calling it a "blatant violation" of international law and vowing to repel the incursion. Although it blamed some Kurdish groups for what is happening, saying they were being used as a tool to help an "American project," it said Syria is ready to welcome back its "stray sons if they return to their senses," referring to the pro-US Kurdish fighters.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused Washington of playing "very dangerous games" with the Syrian Kurds, saying that the US first propped up the Syrian Kurdish "quasi state" in northeastern Syria and is now withdrawing its support.
"Such reckless attitude to this highly sensitive subject can set fire to the entire region, and we have to avoid it at any cost," he said.
Meanwhile, Iran has regularly urged Turkey to respect Syria’s territorial integrity and says all foreign military forces “with an illegal presence” – including the United States – should leave the country.
President Hassan Rouhani called on Turkey on Wednesday to show restraint and avoid military action.
“We have openly said that the only solution to ensure safety and security in southern Turkey and northern Syria is the presence of the Syrian Army,” Rouhani said.
“We are calling on our friendly and brotherly neighbor Turkey to act with more patience and restraint, and to revise its decision and chosen path,” he said.
Iran, like Turkey, is home to a large ethnic Kurdish population and Rouhani expressed understanding for Turkish concerns about security on its borders, adding: “We believe that a correct path should be adopted to remove those concerns.”
Rouhani advised Kurdish forces in Syria to join forces with the Syrian military, stressing that Syria is their rightful homeland.
“Kurds in Syria... should support the Syrian Army,” he said.
AP, Reuters and Press TV contributed to this story.