Turkish ground forces pressed their advance against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria on Thursday, Turkey's Defense Ministry said, launching airstrikes and unleashing artillery shelling on Syrian towns and villages the length of its border.
But a Kurdish-led group and Syrian activists claimed that despite the heavy barrage, Turkish troops had not made much progress on several fronts they had opened over the past hours.
Heavy clashes are under way in Syrian border villages between advancing Turkish forces and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) soldiers, an official in the Kurdish-led SDF said.
"Fierce clashes are continuing in the villages that (Turkish forces) are trying to enter," said Marvan Qamishlo, an SDF media official.
Residents of the border areas scrambled in panic on Wednesday as they tried to get out on foot, in cars and with rickshaws piled with mattresses and a few belongings.
It was a wrenchingly familiar scenario for the many who, only a few years ago, had fled the advances on their towns and villages by ISIS.
Turkey began its offensive in northern Syria on Wednesday with airstrikes and artillery shelling, before ground troops began crossing the border later in the day. US troops pulled back from the area, paving the way for Turkey's assault on Syrian Kurdish forces.
The Kurds, who have been America's only allies in Syria fighting ISIS, stopped on Thursday all their operations against the extremists in order to focus on fighting advancing Turkish troops, Kurdish and US officials said.
The Turkish Defense Ministry statement did not provide further details on the offensive but shared a brief video of commandos in action. The ministry said Turkish jets and artillery had struck 181 targets east of the Euphrates River in Syria since the incursion started.
Mustafa Bali, an SDF spokesman, said their fighters have repelled Turkish forces ground attacks.
"No advance as of now," he tweeted Thursday.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Turkish troops tried to push ahead on several fronts under the cover of airstrikes and artillery shelling but made no tangible progress. The Observatory said that since Turkey began its operation, seven civilians have been killed.