Oct. 11 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump is giving his administration the authority to implement sanctions on Turkey after its military action against Kurdish forces in northern Syria, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Friday.
He said Trump signed an executive order approving the sanctions, though the financial penalties have not been activated.
"These are very powerful sanctions," Mnuchin said. "We hope we don't have to use them. But we can shut down the Turkish economy if we need to.
"The president is concerned about the ongoing military offensive and potential targeting of civilians, civilian infrastructure, ethnic and religious minorities, and the president wants to make very clear that it is imperative that Turkey not allow even a single ISIS fighter to escape," he added, using an alternate acronym for the Islamic State.
Seventy-thousand people in Syria have fled their homes in recent days in response to the Turkish offensive, the United Nations said Friday.
Turkish forces began the incursion Wednesday. On Friday, the World Food Program said the 70,000 left to escape mounting violence.
Many have left their homes in Ras al-Ayn and Tal Abyad, the WFP said.
Turkey initiated the offensive after the Trump administration agreed not to block the fighting and to withdraw U.S. forces from the war-scarred nation. U.S. President Donald Trump drew widespread criticism for the move from lawmakers in both major parties. They argue the United States is abandoning Kurdish forces who helped the U.S. military defeat the Islamic State terror group there.
Fighter jets and artillery weapons this week fired on Qamishli, the de facto administrative center for Syrian Kurds located just a few miles from the Turkey border.
"I had to leave with only the clothes I had on me," business owner Mikael Mohammad told The Washington Post after leaving his home in Tal Abyad. "The shelling is barbaric and indiscriminate."
"[The fighting] will further undermine the stability of the whole region," German Ambassador Jürgen Schulz said at the U.N. Security Council.
Turkey has defended its strategy. Foreign Minister Meylut Cavusoglu said Ankara has rights under international law "to clear terrorist positions."