Turkey starts land offensive in northeast Syria, EU and world leaders condemn operation

Turkey has launched a military operation into northeastern Syria, in what it says is an offensive aimed at eliminating a “terror corridor” along the southern Turkish border.

After Turkish warplanes and artillery pounded Kurdish YPG targets with air strikes and artillery barrages on Wednesday afternoon, Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel allies entered northeast Syria on Wednesday night, the defence ministry said, starting a land offensive against Kurdish militia fighters.

The Turkish army has hit a total of 181 militant targets with air strikes and howitzers since the start of operation, the Turkish defence ministry said late on Wednesday night.

The Kurdish-led force in northeast Syria confronted and “repelled ” the Turkish ground attack, Mustafa Bali, spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, said on Twitter.

The Kurdish-led force later said that a Turkish air strike had hit a prison which holds detained Islamic State militants.

“One of the prisons that ISIS detainees (are) held in was struck by Turkish airstrike,” the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said.

The EU has condemned the Turkish offensive, along with a number of other countries.

The offensive comes after US president Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of US troops from the area, a move widely criticised as allowing Kurdish forces – who have been instrumental in the defeat of so-called Islamic State (ISIS) – to be abandoned by their ally, the USA.

Reports of casualties

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said Turkish bombing of the border region killed five civilians and injured dozens more on Wednesday.

It also said three of its fighters were killed.

Explosions were reported in the town of Ras al Ain in northeast Syria, on the border with Turkey.

A witness in the Syrian town of Tel Abyad told Reuters that sounds of explosions rang out and smoke was rising nearby along the border with Turkey, as people fled the town en masse.

The Turkish state-owned Anadolu news agency reported that rockets fired from Syria’s Qamishli had landed in the centre of the Turkish border town of Nusaybin.

The SDF called for a no-fly zone to “stop attacks on innocent people”, adding on Twitter that Turkish jets have bombed military positions and civilian villagers, leading to reports of casualties.

SDF military media official Marvan Qamishlo told Reuters the SDF clashed with Turkish forces along the border between them: “The clashes are ongoing almost along the entire border. The SDF is responding.”

Turkey’s aim in Syria

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the offensive, dubbed “Operation Peace Spring”, would aim to eliminate threats from the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia and the Islamic State militants and enable the return of Syrian refugees in Turkey after the formation of a “safe zone” in the area.

“Our mission is to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area,” Erdogan said on Twitter. “We will preserve Syria’s territorial integrity and liberate local communities from terrorists.”

The SDF is led by the YPG, a Kurdish militia group deemed a terrorist organisation by Turkey, due to their ties to militants waging an insurgency inside Turkey.

More: Why does Turkey want an offensive again Syria’s Kurds and how is the US involved?

International outrage

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Turkey must end its offensive, warning no European funding would be granted for a “security zone”.

“Turkey must cease the ongoing military operation. It will not work. And if Turkey’s plan is to create a security zone, do not expect funding from the European Union,” he told the European Parliament in Brussels.

The EU rejected any Turkish plans for a safe zone for refugees, saying it would not provide aid there.

“The EU calls upon Turkey to cease the unilateral military action,” it said in a joint statement of the 28 member states.

“It is unlikely that a so-called ‘safe zone’ in north-east Syria, as envisaged by Turkey, would satisfy international criteria for refugee return.”

France’s European affairs minister said that France, Britain and Germany had called for the United Nations Security Council to meet to discuss the Turkish offensive.

Speaking to the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, French EU envoy Amelie de Montchalin said that the three countries were also finalising a joint statement to “strongly condemn” the Turkish offensive, but said a separate EU statement had yet to be agreed because some countries had not signed up to it.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that he condemns the operation, which “is jeopardising the anti-Islamic State coalition’s security and humanitarian efforts and is a risk for the security of Europeans.” He added: “It has to end.”

Britain’s foreign secretary Dominic Raab said he had “serious concerns” about Turkey’s offensive in northeast Syria.

“This risks destabilising the region, exacerbating humanitarian suffering, and undermining the progress made against Daesh (Islamic State) which should be our collective focus,” Raab said in a statement.

Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said he had summoned the Turkish ambassador after Ankara launched a military incursion into Syria.

“The Netherlands condemns the Turkish offensive in northeast Syria,” Blok said in a statement. “We call on Turkey not to continue on the path they are going down.”

Turkey’s military operation in northeastern Syria must be restrained, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday, adding that it was important not to destabilise the region any further.

Stoltenberg said that Turkey had “legitimate security concerns” and had informed NATO about its attack against Kurdish fighters in Syria.

“I count on Turkey to act with restraint and ensure that any action it may take in northern Syria is proportionate and measured,” he said after meeting Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. “It is important to avoid actions that may further destabilise the region, escalate tensions and cause more human suffering.”

The United Nations Security Council will meet on Syria behind closed doors on Thursday, diplomats said.

The Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, said that Turkey sent a diplomatic note to the Syrian consulate in Istanbul to inform them of the operation in northern Syria, Reuters reported.

Cavusoglu said Turkey’s operation was based on its rights related to international law and added that Ankara had informed all the necessary actors, including the United Nations and NATO.

Egypt called for an emergency meeting of the League of Arab States over Turkey’s offensive into Syria, the Egyptian foreign ministry said.

“Egypt condemned in the strongest terms the Turkish aggression on Syrian territory,” the ministry said in a statement, adding that the offensive “represents a blatant and unacceptable attack on the sovereignty of a brotherly Arab state.”

Iran’s parliament speaker Ali Larijani has cancelled his scheduled trip to Turkey, Iranian state TV reported.

“Larijani was invited by his Turkish counterpart to attend a parliamentary meeting in Turkey. His trip has been cancelled,” TV said, without elaborating.

The UAE foreign ministry condemned the Turkish offensive in a statement carried by the state news agency WAM.

The statement said that the aggression represents a dangerous development and a blatant and unacceptable aggression against the sovereignty of an Arab state in contravention of the rules of international law.

Donald Trump said in a statement released by the White House that the US “does not endorse this attack”, adding it is a “bad idea”. He added that he would devastate Turkey’s economy if Ankara’s incursion in Syria wipes out the Kurdish population there. “I will wipe out his [Erdogan’s] economy if that happens. (…) I hope that he will act rationally,” he said.

How Donald Trump paved the way for Turkey’s offensive

Turkey had been poised to advance into northeast Syria since US troops began vacating the area in an abrupt policy shift by Donald Trump, widely criticised in Washington even by some of the President’s Republican supporters.

Nikki Haley, former US ambassador to the United Nations, warned that his decision meant leaving US allies in the region “to die”.

Following the widespread criticism to withdraw troops, Trump took to Twitter to warn Erdogan he would “obliterate” Turkey’s economy if it did anything he, “in my great and unmatched wisdom”, considered to be “off-limits”.

Meanwhile, a leading Republican senator, usually a vocal ally of Trump, said he plans to introduce a package of “devastating” sanctions to hit Turkey over its military operation, expressing concerns over the fate of Kurds in the area.

Senator Lindsey Graham has repeatedly criticized Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from northeastern Syria.

Graham told media outlet Axios in an interview published on Wednesday that the sanctions would strike the Turkish economy and military.

World powers fear Turkey’s invasion could open a new chapter in Syria’s war and worsen regional turmoil.

In the build-up to the expected offensive, Syria had said it was determined to confront any Turkish aggression by all legitimate means.

Read the full article at: euronews.com