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US threatens Turkey with 'immediate defensive action' after Syria artillery fire

Smoke rises over the Syrian town of Ras al-Ayn, as seen from the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa Province, Turkey, October 11, 2019. (Photo by Reuters)

The United States has threatened to take an "immediate defensive action" after a contingent of its forces was caught up in Turkish shelling in northern Syria.

In a statement released on Friday, the Pentagon said American troops near Syria's Kurdish-populated city of Kobani, known as Ayn al-Arab, came under artillery fire from Turkish positions.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Brook DeWalt said the explosion took place within a few hundred meters of an area "known by the Turks to have US forces present."

"The United States remains opposed to the Turkish military move into Syria and especially objects to Turkish operations outside the Security Mechanism zone and in areas where the Turks know US forces are present," he said.

"The US demands that Turkey avoid actions that could result in immediate defensive action."

The Turkish Defense Ministry, however, said the artillery fire was not aimed at US soldiers but at "terrorist positions" in an act of “self-defense."

"Turkey did not open fire at the US observation post in any way. All precautions were taken prior to opening fire in order to prevent any harm to the US base," it said in a statement.

Turkey launched its military campaign, dubbed Operation Peace Spring, in northeast Syria on Wednesday; just days after the US pulled forces out and abandoned its Kurdish allies there.

Ankara says the operation is meant to purge the Syrian region of US-backed Kurdish militants, which Turkey views as terrorists linked to local autonomy-seeking militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The offensive is Turkey's third such military operation inside Syria against the Kurds since 2016. It has sparked widespread condemnations as well as concerns about the humanitarian situation of the civilian population and a possible resurgence of the Daesh terrorist group.

On Friday, the Syrian parliament vehemently condemned the Turkish incursion as a flagrant violation of international law and a blatant breach of the UN Security Council resolutions.

”The aggression is doomed to fail as all Turkish, US and Zionist schemes have failed during the past years as no force in the world will be able to undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria,” it said, emphasizing the Syrians' resolve to confront the aggression by all means and expose its objectives.

US threatens sanctions; Turkey vows retaliation

In another development on Friday, US President Donald Trump threatened Turkey with sanctions over its attacks on Syrian territory.

"If Turkey does something they shouldn't be doing we will put on sanctions the likes of which very few countries have ever seen before," he said. "We don't want them killing a lot of people."

Earlier in the day, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that Trump had authorized his administration to draft “very significant” new sanctions to target Turkey.

“We are putting financial institutions on notice that they should be careful and that there could be sanctions,” he said.

“These are very powerful sanctions. We hope we don’t have to use them. But we can shut down the Turkish economy if we need to,” he added.

In response, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said the country would retaliate any steps against what it calls efforts to fight terrorism.

“Turkey is fighting with terrorist organizations that create a threat to its national security,” it said in a statement. “No one should doubt that we will retaliate ... to any step that will be taken against this.”

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