By Mert Ozkan
HASSA, Turkey (Reuters) - Turkey shelled targets in northern Syria on Monday and said its three-day-old operation against Kurdish YPG fighters who control the Afrin region would be completed swiftly.
Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies began their push to clear YPG fighters from the northwestern enclave on Saturday, opening a new front in Syria's civil war despite calls for restraint from United States, which has armed the YPG.
YPG spokesman Birusk Hasaka said clashes between Kurdish and Turkey-backed forces persisted on the third day of the operation. He said Turkish shelling had hit civilian areas in the northeast of the Afrin region.
Ankara considers the YPG a terrorist organization with ties to Kurdish militant separatists within Turkey, and it has been infuriated by U.S. support for the fighters. Washington, which is backing the YPG in the battle against Islamic State in Syria, said on Sunday it was concerned about the situation.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has pledged to crush the YPG in Afrin and then target the Kurdish-held town of Manbij to the east, part of a much larger swath of northern Syria controlled by YPG-dominated forces.
That raises the prospect of protracted conflict between Turkey and its allied Free Syrian Army factions on one side and on the other the Kurdish YPG, who spearheaded the U.S.-backed campaign to drive Islamic State out of its Syrian strongholds last year.
But Mehmet Simsek, Turkey's deputy prime minister who oversees economic affairs in the government, played down the potential for a damaging and drawn-out military campaign.
"Our investors should be at ease, the impact will be limited, the operation will be brief and it will reduce the terror risk to Turkey in the period ahead," Simsek said at a ceremony in Ankara.
A Reuters cameraman near Hassa, across the border from Afrin, saw Turkish shelling on Monday morning. Dogan news agency said Turkish howitzers opened fire at 1 a.m. (2200 GMT) against YPG targets.
It said militia targets were also being destroyed by Turkish warplanes and multiple rocket launchers.
On Sunday a Turkish official said Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army rebel factions had captured a Kurdish village with no resistance and were clearing landmines. The YPG said it had repelled the Turkish forces.
Turkey's military operation to drive back Islamic State and YPG fighters, which it launched in August 2016 and named "Euphrates Shield", lasted seven months. So far there has been no indication of major gains on the ground by Turkey-backed forces in Afrin.
(Additional reporting by Daren Butler in Istanbul and Lisa Barrington in Beirut; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by David Dolan and Gareth Jones)