Turkey vows 'harsh reaction' as missiles hit Syria town

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon
Doctors Without Borders Clinic Bombed in Syria

AMMAN/BEIRUT (Reuters) -- Turkey warned Kurdish militia fighters in northern Syria on Monday they would face the "harshest reaction" if they tried to capture a town near the Turkish border, and accused Russia of a missile attack there that killed at least 14 civilians.

READ MORE: Illicit drug bust sets another huge record for police

A major offensive supported by Russian bombing and Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias has brought the Syrian army to within 25 km (15 miles) of Turkey's border. The Kurdish YPG militia has exploited the situation, seizing ground from Syrian rebels to extend its presence along the frontier.

At least 14 civilians were killed in the Syrian town of Azaz, the last rebel stronghold before the border with Turkey, when missiles hit a children's hospital and a school sheltering refugees fleeing the Syrian army offensive, a medic and two residents said.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said a Russian missile had hit the buildings and that many civilians including children had been killed.

See more from the scene:

14 PHOTOS
Hospital airstrike, Syria
See Gallery
Turkey vows 'harsh reaction' as missiles hit Syria town
IDLIB, SYRIA - FEBRUARY 15: Rescue workers and civilians inspect the debris of a collapsed hospital, belongs to humanitarian aid organization 'Doctors Without Borders' to save victims after Russian forces' air-strike over residential areas in Maarat al-Numan District of Idlib, Syria on February 15, 2016. Casualties reported. (Photo by Muhammed Karkas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / The body of a young boy wrapped in shrouds is seen in a make-shift morgue after he was killed in an air strike on the besieged rebel-controlled city of Douma, a flashpoint near the Syrian capital on February 15, 2016. / AFP / Abd Doumany / == GRAPHIC CONTENT == (Photo credit should read ABD DOUMANY/AFP/Getty Images)
People carry a stretcher amidst debris after a hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) was hit by suspected Russian air strikes near Maaret al-Numan, in Syria's northern province of Idlib, on February 15, 2016. MSF confirmed in a statement that a hospital supported by the aid group in Idlib province was 'destroyed in air strikes'. / AFP / Omar haj kadour (Photo credit should read OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
IDLIB, SYRIA - FEBRUARY 15: Debris of a collapsed hospital, belongs to humanitarian aid organization 'Doctors Without Borders' are seen after Russian forces' air-strike over residential areas in Maarat al-Numan District of Idlib, Syria on February 15, 2016. Casualties reported. (Photo by Muhammed Karkas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
IDLIB, SYRIA - FEBRUARY 15: Debris of a collapsed hospital, belongs to humanitarian aid organization 'Doctors Without Borders' are seen after Russian forces' air-strike over residential areas in Maarat al-Numan District of Idlib, Syria on February 15, 2016. Casualties reported. (Photo by Muhammed Karkas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A bulldozer is unloaded from a truck as people gather around the rubble of a hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) near Maaret al-Numan, in Syria's northern province of Idlib, on February 15, 2016, after the building was hit by suspected Russian air strikes. MSF confirmed in a statement that a hospital supported by the aid group in Idlib province was 'destroyed in air strikes'. / AFP / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Signs from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) lie amidst debris after a hospital supported by MSF was hit by suspected Russian air strikes near Maaret al-Numan, in Syria's northern province of Idlib, on February 15, 2016. MSF confirmed in a statement that a hospital supported by the aid group in Idlib province was 'destroyed in air strikes'. / AFP / Omar haj kadour (Photo credit should read OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
Turkish medics carry a wounded Syrian man to a hospital in Kilis, Turkey, Monday, Feb. 15, 2016. An airstrike in the northern Syrian province of Idlib destroyed a makeshift clinic supported by an international aid group on Monday, killing and wounding several people, activists and the group said. Doctors Without Borders _ also known by its French acronym MSF _ said in a statement that the hospital was hit with four times in two series of at least two attacks. It said the attacks were minutes apart adding that at least eight members of staff are currently missing. (AP Photo/Halit Onur Sandal)
Turkish medics carry a wounded Syrian boy to a hospital in Kilis, Turkey, Monday, Feb. 15, 2016. An airstrike in the northern Syrian province of Idlib destroyed a makeshift clinic supported by an international aid group on Monday, killing and wounding several people, activists and the group said. Doctors Without Borders _ also known by its French acronym MSF _ said in a statement that the hospital was hit with four times in two series of at least two attacks. It said the attacks were minutes apart adding that at least eight members of staff are currently missing.(AP Photo/Halit Onur Sandal)
An injured Syrian child arriving from northern Syria is carried to Kilis hospital in south-central Turkey on February 15, 2016. / AFP / BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
An injured Syrian man with his child arriving from northern Syria waits in front of Kilis hospital in south-central Turkey on February 15, 2016. / AFP / BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
An injured Syrian man arriving from northern Syria is carried to Kilis hospital in south-central Turkey on February 15, 2016. / AFP / BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian man carries a child outside a damaged charity clinic for women and children following reported air strikes in the city of Azaz, on Syria's northern border with Turkey, on February 15, 2016. / AFP / MUJAHED ABUL JOUD (Photo credit should read MUJAHED ABUL JOUD/AFP/Getty Images)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

Turkey shelled YPG positions for a third day to try to stop its fighters seizing Azaz, just 8 km (5 miles) from the border. Ankara fears the Kurdish militia, backed by Russia, is trying to secure the last stretch of around 100 km (60 miles) along the Syrian border not already under its control.

"We will not allow Azaz to fall," Davutoglu told reporters on his plane on the way to Ukraine, adding YPG fighters would already have taken Azaz and Tal Rifaat further south had it not been for Turkish artillery firing at them over the weekend.

"If they approach again they will see the harshest reaction," he said.

The standoff has increased the risk of direct confrontation between Russia and NATO member Turkey.

Turkey is enraged by the expansion of Kurdish influence in northern Syria, fearing it will encourage separatist ambitions among its own Kurds. It considers the YPG a terrorist group.

Davutoglu said Turkey would make the Menagh air base north of the city of Aleppo "unusable" if the YPG, which seized it over the weekend from Syrian insurgents, did not withdraw. He warned the YPG not to move east of the Afrin region or west of the Euphrates River, long a "red line" for Ankara.

HOSPITALS HIT

Syria's rebels, some backed by the United States, Turkey and their allies, say the YPG is fighting with the Syrian military and its backers, including Russia, against them in the five-year-old civil war. The YPG denies this.

South of Azaz, the Kurdish-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, of which the YPG is a member, took around 70 percent of the town of Tal Rifaat, according to the Syrian Observatory, which monitors the war.

Major powers agreed in Munich on Friday to a cessation of hostilities in Syria, but the deal does not take effect until the end of this week and was not signed by any warring parties.

At a press conference in Kiev, Davutoglu doubted Russia's commitment to any such deal, pointing to comments from Moscow that it would continue its air strikes regardless. Russia, Davutoglu said, had a clear objective:

"They want to have just two options in front of the international community: Daesh or Assad," he said, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

Tens of thousands have fled to Azaz from towns and villages where there is heavy fighting between the Syrian army and militias.

"We have been moving scores of screaming children from the hospital," said medic Juma Rahal, following the missile strikes. At least two children were killed and ambulances ferried scores of injured people to Turkey for treatment, he said.

French charity Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) meanwhile said seven people were killed and at least eight staff were missing after missiles hit a hospital in the province of Idlib, west of Aleppo, in a separate incident.

"The author of the strike is clearly ... either the government or Russia," MSF president Mego Terzian said.

Russian Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova said Russian air strikes were targeting Islamic State infrastructure and she had no reason to believe that Russian planes had bombed civilian sites in Idlib.

"We are confident that (there is) no way could it be done by our defense forces. This contradicts our ideology," she said in Geneva.

Syria's ambassador to Russia meanwhile said U.S. war planes were responsible.

"Concerning the hospital which was destroyed, in actual fact it was destroyed by the American Air Force. The Russian Air Force has nothing to do it with," Ambassador Riad Haddad told Rossiya 24 television.

GROUND INCURSION NOT PLANNED

Ankara views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought a 31-year-old insurgency for autonomy in southeast Turkey. But Washington, which does not see the YPG as terrorists, supports the group in the fight against Islamic State in Syria.

That has left Turkey dangerously exposed, unable to count on the support of its NATO allies as it campaigns against the YPG, but also threatened by Islamic State fighters, as well as Syrian government forces and their backers including Russia.

Turkish financial markets were weaker on Monday on fears about the situation on the border, with the lira underperforming emerging markets currencies, its dollar bonds selling off heavily, and its default insurance costs rising.

Turkish Defence Minister Ismet Yilmaz denied a report that some Turkish soldiers had entered Syria at the weekend and said Ankara was not considering sending troops there, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency.

The Syrian government had said Turkish forces were believed to be among 100 gunmen who entered Syria on Saturday.

Yilmaz also denied reports that Saudi Arabian aircraft had already arrived at Turkey's Incirlik air base to join the fight against Islamic State, but said a decision had been reached for Saudi to send four F-16 jets.

More from AOL.com:
Sharks inundate popular Fla. beach late in the season
New poll reveals surprise winner of GOP debate
NYC-bound plane forced to land after scary incident

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners