ISTANBUL: The Turkish army on Monday accused Islamic State (IS) militants of killing at least 30 civilians seeking to flee the flashpoint Syrian town of Al-Bab which Ankara and its rebel allies have been seeking to capture for weeks.
The army said that the civilians were killed with mines and homemade bombs as they tried to make their way out of Al-Bab, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported, without giving further details.
Turkish forces and allied Syrian rebels have been seeking to take Al-Bab as a key part of an unprecedented four-month campaign that began in late August.
But they have been facing tough opposition from the jihadists and suffered the highest casualties of the campaign so far in the fight for the town.
Turkey at the weekend deployed more tanks and artillery to the border and also as sent 500 elite commandos to Al-Bab in readiness for a final fight for the town, reports said.
Thirty-six Turkish soldiers have died so far in the operation – dubbed Euphrates Shield – after another wounded soldier lost his life in a hospital in Turkey overnight, reports said.
Sixteen Turkish soldiers were killed by IS in the battle for the town on Wednesday – Ankara’s biggest loss so far since it launched its incursion.
A Britain-based monitoring group has accused Turkey of killing 88 civilians in air strikes on Al-Bab, including 21 children. However, the army has unequivocally denied such claims.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at the weekend the battle for Al-Bab is nearly finished, reiterating Turkish forces would then head to Manbij, a former bastion of IS that is now under the control of US-backed, Kurdish-led militia.