ANKARA, Turkey, Aug. 24 (UPI) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said an offensive was launched in the northern Syrian city of Jarabulus on Wednesday in response to suspected Islamic State attacks in southern Turkey.
The offensive — called Operation Euphrates Shield — began with artillery and airstrikes, followed by Turkish tanks crossing the border to attack Islamic State targets in support of Free Syrian Army militia fighters.
The southern provinces of Turkey this year have faced increased rocket attacks and indiscriminate civilian bombings mainly carried out by the Islamic State, but also from Turkish rebels. Most recently, 54 people were killed in a Gaziantep wedding bombing where about half of the victims — 29 — were children. The Islamic State is blamed for carrying out the bombing.
At least 21 people have died in the Turkish province of Kilis since January due to rocket attacks.
“Right now, unfortunately, all the attacks which happened in Gaziantep and Kilis … brought this issue to this point,” Erdogan said Wednesday in Ankara. “This is the end. We said it needed to be finished and the process has started this morning at 4 a.m. We have to solve the problem.”
Before the Turkish assault, officials ordered the evacuation of the town of Karkamis in southeast Turkey after the Islamic State began shelling the area. Karkamis was caught in the middle in the fight between the Islamic State and rebel groups backed by Turkey.
Jarablus is a key Islamic State supply route.
“You cannot divide our nation, you cannot lower our flag, you cannot smash up our homeland, our state, you cannot silence our call to prayer, you cannot bring this county to your knees, you cannot bring to heel these people,” Erdogan said. “This nation exists and will always exist with its people, military, police and guards, whatever threats there are against Turkey.”