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European powers urge Turkey to ‘cease’ operation in Syria

NEW YORK, USA: 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 United States’ envoy to the world body warned Ankara of consequences if it does not “play by the rules”.

The statement on Thursday came after an emergency meeting of the 15-strong 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.

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 of 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 in New York. Separately, UN chief Antonio Guterres called for de-escalating the conflict.

On Wednesday, Turkey told the UNSC 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 Sinirlioglu 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 and many other Western capitals.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the goal of the operation was to create a buffer zone freed of the Kurdish fighters within which some of the 3.6 million refugees currently residing in Turkey can also be resettled.

In a speech on Thursday, Erdogan dismissed criticism of the operation and threatened to send more than three million Syrian refugees into Europe.