UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Thursday, 10 October expressed his “deep concern” at the spiralling violence in Syria a day after Turkey launched an offensive in Kurdish-controlled areas.
“I want to express my deep concern about the escalation of conflicts we are witnessing in eastern Syria,” Guterres told a press conference in Copenhagen.
He said any solution to the conflict needed “to respect the sovereignty of the territory and the unity of Syria”.
His remarks came as the five European members of the UN Security Council, France, Germany, Britain, Belgium and Poland, called on Ankara to halt its military operation against Syrian Kurdish forces.
“We are deeply concerned by the Turkish military operation in northeast Syria,” the countries, France, Germany, Britain, Belgium and Poland, said in a joint statement after an emergency meeting.
“We call upon Turkey to cease the unilateral military action as we do not believe it will address Turkey’s underlying security concerns,” they said.
At this stage, the countries have not gained the support from all council members for the declaration, diplomats said.
According to one of them, the United States would consider adopting a common position on the council later, but it could face opposition from Russia unless the text was very weak.
In a separate statement, US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft said that if Turkey does not “protect vulnerable populations” or does not guarantee that the Islamic State (IS) group “cannot exploit these actions to reconstitute,” there will be consequences.
Craft reiterated US President Donald Trump’s administration’s assertion that the American government “has not in any way endorsed the decision of the Government of Turkey to mount a military incursion into northeast Syria.” But Trump cleared the way for the Turkish offensive against the Kurdish forces- who led the fight against IS in Syria- by withdrawing American troops from the country’s northern frontier.
“Turkey is now responsible for ensuring that all ISIS fighters in detention in prison, remain in prison and that ISIS does not reconstitute itself in any way, shape, or form,” Craft said, referring to IS.
In their statement, the European countries expressed concern that the Turkish offensive risks providing “fertile ground” for IS.
One aim of Ankara’s operation is to establish a “safe zone” in which at least one million Syrian refugees can be repatriated from Turkey.
“It is unlikely that a so-called ‘safe zone’ in northeast Syria, as envisaged by Turkey, would satisfy international criteria for refugee return as laid down” by the UN Refugee Agency, the European countries said, adding: “Any attempt at demographic change would be unacceptable.”
On Thursday, India also reacted to Turkey’s offensive, calling for restraint by the country and urging peaceful settlement of issues.
The closed-door meeting, set for late Thursday morning, was requested by European members Belgium, France, Germany and Britain, they said.
Turkish bombardment on Kurdish-controlled areas in northeastern Syria killed at least 15 people on Wednesday, eight of them civilians, a monitoring group said in an updated toll, according to AFP.
Turkey launched its threatened offensive hours earlier, with a limited number of air strikes and mostly artillery fire across most of the width of its long border with Kurdish-controlled regions of Syria.
Earlier, on Wednesday, the SDF reported “intensive bombardment by Turkish jets on military positions and civilian villages” in the areas of Ras al-Ain, Tal Abyad, Qamishli and Ain Issa.
WHY IS TURKEY ATTACKING NORTHERN SYRIA?
Turkey has long been planning military action against Kurdish forces in northern Syria due to their ties with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984, AFP reported.
However, the US has a history of close collaboration with Kurdish forces in its fight against the Islamic State in Syria. Turkey, being a member of the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), has been under pressure to not take action against the Kurds.
The US recently decided to pull its forces from northern Syria, paving the way for a Turkish assault, even as Donald Trump insists the US hadn’t abandoned its Kurdish allies.
The current offensive, dubbed operation ‘Peace Spring’, was launched by the Turkish Armed Forces, in conjunction with the Syrian National Army (rebel groups backed by Ankara), on Wednesday.
#OperationPeaceSpring will neutralize terror threats against Turkey and lead to the establishment of a safe zone, facilitating the return of Syrian refugees to their homes.
We will preserve Syria’s territorial integrity and liberate local communities from terrorists.
— Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RTErdogan) October 9, 2019
The offensive officially targets Kurdish militants and the Islamic State group in northern Syria, according to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
HOW HAS INDIA REACTED TO THE OFFENSIVE?
In a press release on Thursday, 10 October, India’s Ministry of External Affairs condemned the “unilateral military offensive by Turkey”. India also urged Turkey to exercise restraint and called for peaceful settlement of issues.
“We are deeply concerned at the unilateral military offensive by Turkey in north-east Syria. Turkey’s actions can undermine stability in the region and the fight against terrorism. Its action also has the potential for causing humanitarian and civilian distress,” the press release read.
The MEA also said, “We call upon Turkey to exercise restraint and respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria. We urge the peaceful settlement of all issues through dialogue and discussion.”
WHAT STANCE IS THE US TAKING?
President Donald Trump on Wednesday said that the US does not endorse Turkey’s military offensive in Syria, describing it as a bad idea, but defended his efforts to pull American forces out of the region.
“This morning, Turkey, a NATO member, invaded Syria. The United States does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea,” Trump said hours after Turkish forces entered northern Syria.
There are no American soldiers in the area, he said.
Donald Trump, president of the US”From the first day I entered the political arena, I made it clear that I did not want to fight these endless, senseless wars, especially those that don’t benefit the United States.”
Turkey, he said, has committed to protect civilians, protecting religious minorities, including Christians, and ensuring no humanitarian crisis takes place, and we will hold them to this commitment.
“In addition, Turkey is now responsible for ensuring all ISIS fighters being held captive remain in prison and that ISIS does not reconstitute in any way, shape, or form. We expect Turkey to abide by all of its commitments, and we continue to monitor the situation closely,” Trump said.
He had earlier threatened Turkey with economic consequences if it went too far.
….the captured ISIS fighters and families. The U.S. has done far more than anyone could have ever expected, including the capture of 100% of the ISIS Caliphate. It is time now for others in the region, some of great wealth, to protect their own territory. THE USA IS GREAT!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 7, 2019
HOW HAS THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY REACTED?
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters that Turkey’s campaign in Syria might lead to the resurgence of the Islamic State group. He said he was “deeply concerned” about Turkey’s actions and the safety of civilians and the Kurdish people, AP reported.
The European’s Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called on Turkey to cease its military action in northeast Syria.
She said in a written statement on Wednesday that “renewed armed hostilities in the north-east will further undermine the stability of the whole region, exacerbate civilian suffering and provoke further displacements.”
Earlier in the day, Egypt condemned the Turkey’s military operation into northern Syria, calling it an “aggression” against Syria’s sovereignty, Associated Press reported.
Germany’s foreign minister also condemned Turkey’s offensive in northern Syria and called on Ankara to end the military action, saying it threatened “a further humanitarian catastrophe and further displacement of persons.”
The secretary-general of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, has also urged Turkey not to “further destabilise the region” through its military action in northern Syria.
Stoltenberg told a news conference in Rome that Turkey, a NATO ally, “has legitimate security concerns,” having suffered “horrendous terrorist attacks” and hosting thousands of refugees, according to Associated Press.
(With inputs from AFP and Associated Press)