UNITED NATIONS: The five European members of the UN Security Council called on Thursday for Turkey to halt its offensive 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.

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.”

In a letter to the Security Council on Wednesday, Ankara said that the operation was being conducted within the framework of “the right of self-defence as outlined in Article 51 of the UN Charter, to counter the imminent terrorist threat, to ensure Turkey’s border security, to neutralize terrorists”. “As has been the case in its previous counter-terrorism operations, Turkey’s response will be proportionate, measured and responsible,” the letter said.

“Turkey will carry out this operation in support of efforts to facilitate safe and voluntary returns of displaced Syrians to their homes of origin or other places of their choices in Syria in line with international law and in coordination with relevant UN agencies,” it said.

US warns Turkey of ‘consequences’

The United States warned Turkey at the United Nations on Thursday that it faced “consequences” if its assault against Kurdish militias in northeast Syria did not protect vulnerable populations or contain Islamic State militants.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft, speaking after a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council on Syria, did not specify what those consequences could be.

“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.

The offensive was launched days after US President Donald Trump pulled US troops out of the way in an abrupt policy shift that followed a phone conversation with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday.

Turkey says the Kurdish YPG, the main component of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, is a terrorist group linked to Kurdish insurgents that have fought in Turkey for years.

Trump denied he had abandoned the Kurdish forces, the most effective US partners in fighting Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria.

The UN Security Council is discussing a US-drafted statement, but it appeared unlikely they could reach an agreement. Such statements are agreed by consensus.

“It should take into account other aspects of the Syrian crisis not just the Turkish operation. It should speak about the illegal military presence in that country,” Russian UN Ambas­sador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters, referring to the presence of US troops in Syria.

Published in Dawn, October 11th, 2019