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Turmoil Spreads in Kurdish-Held Syria as Turkish Invasion Enters 3rd Day

AKCAKALE, Turkey — A mounting sense of turmoil spread across Kurdish-held territory in northern Syria as a Turkish-led incursion of the region entered its third day on Friday, with tens of thousands of civilians fleeing the bombardment, the abandonment of a major hospital on the front line and warnings of an imminent revival of the Islamic State militant group amid the chaos.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, which is backing the Syrian government, said on Friday that he doubted whether Turkey or Syria had the resources to secure prison camps holding thousands of Islamic State prisoners. Kurdish forces allied with the United States had been running the prisons, but they are diverting soldiers to fight the invasion.

On Friday, the Kurdish authorities announced the evacuation of a camp housing 7,000 displaced people and said they were considering moving a second camp that holds relatives of Islamic State fighters. Kurdish forces also released video of a third camp that they said showed an attempt to escape by members of Islamic State families.

Since Wednesday, Turkish forces have pummeled Kurdish-held territory with airstrikes and sent in ground troops, in an effort to take back land controlled by the Kurdish militia that fought alongside United States troops in the war against Islamic State.

The Turkish government has framed the campaign as a counterterrorist operation against the offshoot of a banned Turkey-based guerrilla movement, but the incursion is increasingly disrupting civilian life.

There was a lull in the fighting in the Turkish town of Akcakale, just over the border from Tel Abyad, on Friday morning as hundreds of townspeople turned out to bury a Syrian baby boy whose family had fled to Turkey during an earlier phase of the Syrian civil war, and who was killed in rocket and mortar strikes on Thursday.

Turkish and Kurdish forces traded rocket attacks overnight and in the early morning, townspeople said, but both sides fell silent as the call for prayer rose.

By Friday morning, Turkish ground forces had surrounded the Kurdish-held border town of Ras al-Ain and blocked roads between the town and major Kurdish cities, according to Rojava Information Center, an information service run by activists in the region.

Turkish-backed Syrian Arab forces had also taken ground outside Tel Abyad, a Kurdish-held town just below the Syrian-Turkish border that has been pummeled by airstrikes since Wednesday.

Overnight, medical workers evacuated a hospital in the town that was run by Doctors Without Borders, an international medical charity, as the physicians joined tens of thousands people fleeing the advance of Turkish troops and their Syrian Arab allies. A second hospital in Ras al- Ain was also evacuated, according to a separate report by the Rojava Information Center.

The displaced are fleeing further south as the Turkish bombardment extends deeper inside Kurdish-held territory.

Shells have reached two Kurdish-controlled displacement camps, one that is seven miles from the Turkish border, the other 20 miles, prompting the Kurdish authorities to announce the relocation of some of their 20,000 inhabitants further to the south. Turkey has said it intends to push about 20 miles into Syria to establish a buffer zone.

One of the camps, in Ain Issa, contains hundreds of relatives of Islamic State fighters, and their relocation heightens fears over the effect that the Turkish invasion will have on the fight against the militant group.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has vowed that his forces and their allies will continue to guard any captured Islamic State militants in Kurdish-held prisons.

But as Mr. Putin underscored in his remarks on Friday in a visit to Turkmenistan, it is widely feared that the chaos may allow Islamic State fighters to escape captivity. American officials have confirmed that Kurdish militias have abandoned joint counterterrorism operations with their American counterparts, as they prioritize the defense of their land to the north.

Though American and Kurdish forces have defeated Islamic State militants in northeastern Syria, the group has sleeper cells in the region that could use the turmoil to retake the land they controlled in the early years of the Syrian civil war.

It was the American decision to ally with Kurdish militias that set the stage for Turkey’s invasion this week.

By capturing land previously held by the Islamic State, Kurdish fighters were then able to create an autonomous statelet that now spans roughly a quarter of all Syrian territory and is effectively independent of the central Syrian government in Damascus.

But this dynamic has been chastening for Syria’s northern neighbor, Turkey, which views the central figures in the autonomous Kurdish region as hostile actors with strong connections to a violent Kurdish nationalist group inside Turkey itself.

“The operation is against a terror group,” Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, said at a news conference on Friday. “You may have an engagement with them in the field — this is not my problem. You give them weapons, you trained them. This is not my problem either.”

Since fighting began on Wednesday, Kurdish fighters have returned fire, lobbing mortars at targets just over the Turkish-Syrian border, violence that has killed at least seven civilians, including four children, in Turkish border towns.

At least one Turkish soldier has died in the fighting, according to Turkish officials.

Twenty-three Kurdish fighters have died, according to the Syrian Democratic Forces, the main Kurdish militia, though Turkey’s Defense Ministry said its troops had killed as many as 342.

Turkey’s military campaign has come hand in hand with a crackdown on criticism inside Turkey itself.

The state-run media authority warned that it would “silence” any outlet deemed to have published material damaging to the offensive. Two editors at separate independent news websites were subsequently briefly detained, their outlets reported.

“We will never tolerate broadcasts that will negatively affect our beloved nation and glorious soldiers’ morale and motivation, that serves the aim of terror, and might mislead our citizens with faulty, wrong and biased information,” the media authority said in a statement.

The Turkish incursion has prompted a mixed reaction from the 3.6 million Syrian refugees currently sheltering in Turkey. Some fear that they will end up being deported to the areas recaptured by Turkish forces in northern Syria, despite having no ancestral links there. But others from the specific areas of northern Syria currently under attack said they welcomed the campaign.

On a hilltop overlooking the Syrian border and the town of Tel Abyad, a lone Syrian man, Mehmet Huseyn, 45, crouched in the shade of a rusting water tank, scanning the horizon for signs of movement.

His brother and family were in his home village, six miles beyond the ridgeline, while he had been working as a farm laborer in Turkey for four years to support his family of seven, he said.

“Our village is there,” he said. “I am looking in case they leave and we can return home.”

But it pained him to see more war visited on his home. “Our insides are burning,” he said. “We love land and our country.”

Carlotta Gall reported from Akcakale, and Patrick Kingsley from Istanbul. Anton Troianovski contributed reporting from Moscow.

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