Issued on: 09/10/2019 – 15:42Modified: 09/10/2019 – 17:56
The Turkish operation against Kurdish militants in northern Syria has begun, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday, aiming to eliminate a “terror corridor” along the southern Turkish border. The EU urged Ankara to halt the offensive.
“The Turkish Armed Forces, together with the Syrian National Army (rebel groups backed by Ankara), just launched #OperationPeaceSpring,” Erdogan wrote on Twitter in English. He said the offensive targeted Kurdish militants and the Islamic State group in northern Syria.
“Our mission is to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area,” he wrote, also aiming to enable the return of Syrian refugees in Turkey. “We will preserve Syria’s territorial integrity and liberate local communities from terrorists.”
France, Britain call for Security Council meeting
France has “very strongly” condemned the Turkish operation and said it was calling on a UN Security Council meeting, the French EU minister Amélie de Montchalin announced moments after the start of the offensive.
“France, Germany and the United Kingdom are finishing right now a joint statement which will be extremely clear on the fact that we condemn very strongly what has been reported”, she told the Foreign Affairs committee at the French national assembly. “We are calling the UN Security Council”, she added.
The UN Security Council’s president, South African ambassador Jerry Matthews Matjila, appealed to Turkey to “protect civilians” and exercise “maximum restraint” in its military operations in Syria. Matjila, who holds the council presidency for October, expressed hope the council could meet quickly on the situation but stressed it was up to drafters of resolutions on Syria to convene such a session.
EU calls on Turkey to ‘stop operations’
European Union (EU) chief Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday demanded Turkey halt its military operation against Kurdish militants in northern Syria, telling Ankara the bloc would not pay for any so-called “safe zone” that might be created. “I call on Turkey as well as the other actors to act with restraint and to stop operations already as we are speaking under way,” Juncker said at the European Parliament.
The EU is paying Turkey €6 billion to help the country cope with almost 4 million Syrian refugees on its territory in exchange for stopping migrants leaving for Europe. But Ankara is seeking more money amid concerns that thousands of Syrians could soon cross its border.
Air strikes targeting ‘civilian areas’ causing ‘huge panic’
This operation has been launched with air strikes and will be supported by artillery and howitzer fire, a Turkish security source told Reuters on Wednesday. He was speaking after explosions rocked the town of Ras al Ain in northeast Syria, on the border with Turkey.
A spokesman for the US-backed Kurdish-led force in northern Syria said Turkish warplanes had started targeting “civilian areas” in northern Syria. Mustafa Bali of the Syrian Democratic Forces said the airstrikes had caused “a huge panic among people of the region”.
US ambassador summoned
The US ambassador to Ankara, David M. Satterfield, was summoned to the foreign ministry to be briefed on Turkey’s offensive minutes after Ankara launched its cross-border operation, broadcaster CNN Turk said.
Shortly before the Turkish offensive, Russian President Vladimir Putin urged Erdogan to “think carefully about the situation so as not to harm overall efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis”, the Kremlin said in a statement following a call between the two leaders.
A senior Russian lawmaker said that Russia would not get involved in the conflict between Ankara and Damascus, the RIA news agency reported. RIA quoted Vladimir Dzhabarov, the first deputy chair of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of parliament, as saying Russia’s military is in Syria for different reasons.
Turkey has long been planning military action against Kurdish forces in northern Syria since US troops began vacating the area, due to the Kurdish forces’ ties with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)