European powers urge Turkey to cease Syria offensive

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BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 02: European Union flags are seen in front of the Berlaymont Building (European Commission's center) in Brussels, Belgium on March 02, 2017. AFP

European powers on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) have called on Turkey to cease its offensive against Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria, as the US envoy to the world body warned Ankara of consequences if it does not “play by the rules,” Aljazeera reported.

The comments on Thursday came after an emergency meeting of the 15-member body on Syria, as fighting in towns along the Turkish-Syrian border intensified and forced thousands of people to flee their homes.

“We are deeply concerned by the Turkish military operation,” the UNSC’s five European members — Britain, France, Germany, Belgium and Poland — said in a joint statement.

“Renewed armed hostilities in the northeast will further undermine the stability of the whole region, exacerbate civilian suffering and provoke further displacements [of people],” the statement, delivered by Juergen Schulz, Germany’s deputy ambassador to the UN, added.

Moments earlier, Kelly Craft, Washington’s ambassador to the UN, had warned Ankara it faced repercussions if it did not protect vulnerable populations or contain the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) group.

“Failure to play by the rules, to protect vulnerable populations, failure to guarantee that ISIS cannot exploit these actions to reconstitute will have consequences,” Craft told reporters after the closed-door meeting in New York.

Russian envoy Vasily Nebenzya said Turkey’s operation “is the result of demographic engineering” committed by members of the US-led coalition against ISIL.

“Now the coalition is reaping the fruits of their demographic policies in that part of Syria,” he added.

Separately, UN chief Antonio Guterres said in Copenhagen it was “absolutely essential” to de-escalate the conflict.

Turkey told the UNSC in a letter on Wednesday that its military operation would be “proportionate, measured and responsible” and would “only target terrorists and their hideouts, shelters, emplacements, weapons vehicles and equipment.

“All precautions are taken to avoid collateral damage to the civilian population,” Turkey’s. UN Ambassador Feridun Sinirlioğlu wrote.

The Turkish air and ground operation was launched three days after US President Donald Trump opened the way by pulling his country’s troops from their positions near the border alongside the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Washington’s main ally in the fight against ISIL

Turkey considers the SDF to be an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long armed campaign for autonomy in Turkey and is designated as a terrorist group by Ankara, the United States and the European Union.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan says the goal of the operation is to create a buffer zone free of the Kurdish fighters in which some of the 3.6 million refugees currently residing in Turkey can also be resettled.

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