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France urges UN meeting as Syria fighting escalates

France's foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the country was deeply worried about Turkey's offensive in Syria
AFP

Paris (AFP) – France on Sunday called for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council as fighting escalated in Syria, pressing Turkey to halt its offensive against the Kurdish militia who have been battling jihadists.

Foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France was deeply worried by the “brutal degradation of the situation” in flashpoints like Afrin — where Turkey has launched its operation — as well as Idlib and Ghouta.

“This is why we have called for a Security Council meeting to evaluate all the humanitarian risks, which are very serious,” he said in Algiers on the sidelines of a meeting for western Mediterranean countries.

Le Drian spoke to his Turkish counterpart in a telephone call on Sunday morning, his staff said, with his ministry urging Ankara to “act with restraint”.

Defence Minister Florence Parly meanwhile urged Turkey to stop its operation against Kurdish fighters who she said were a key ally against terrorism in the war-torn country.

The offensive could “deter Kurdish forces who are at the side” of the international coalition battling the Islamic State group, she said.

“What is essential is the fight against terrorism and all this fighting, notably that which is taking place in a terrible fashion near Idlib and elsewhere, must stop,” Parly told France 3 television.

– Cautious tone –

The French warnings came as Turkish ground troops entered northern Syria to push an offensive against the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara considers a terror group.

Parly said the Kurdish militants had been a crucial ally in IS. 

“Our priority is the fight against terrorism,” Parly said.

“As a result, anything that could deter the fighters of this battle is a bad thing.”

French President Emmanuel Macron has said he expects IS to be defeated in Iraq and Syria within weeks, but Parly struck a cautious tone.

“It will likely still take some time,” she said, adding that the jihadists were “going underground” as they lose more and more territory.

The Turkish campaign risks further increasing tensions with NATO allies including the United States, which has supported the YPG in the fight against IS.

Operation “Olive Branch” is Turkey’s second major incursion into Syria during the seven-year civil war.

The army said IS was also being targeted in the operation although it no longer has any major presence in the Afrin area. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had repeatedly vowed that Turkey will root out the “nests of terror” in Syria of the YPG, which Ankara accuses of being the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The PKK, which has waged a rebellion in the Turkish southeast for more than three decades, is regarded as a terror group not just by Ankara but also its Western allies.

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