RUSSIAN President Vladimir Putin has warned that the Turkish military incursion into northeastern Syria could lead to the revival of the Daesh terrorist group in the region.
Putin issued the warning in a televised address during a visit to Turkmenistan on Friday, saying that members of the Takfiri outfit held in northeast Syria could escape from jail as a result of the Turkish offensive.
‘I’m not sure whether the Turkish army will be able to take this under control – and how soon,’ Putin said, ‘This is a real threat to us.’
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced last Tuesday that his country’s military forces and the Turkish-backed militants of the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) had launched a cross-border offensive against US-backed Kurdish YPG militants in northeastern Syria.
Erdogan is claiming the offensive only targets militants affiliated with Daesh as well as Kurdish militants in order to establish a Turkish ‘safe-region’ there and resettle millions of refugees in the area.
Ankara views the US-backed YPG as a terrorist organisation linked to the homegrown Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been seeking to establish an autonomous Kurdish region in Turkey since 1984.
The YPG also constitutes the backbone of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an anti-Damascus alliance of predominantly Kurdish militants, which has much of northern Syria under control.
Russia has also called on Ankara to exercise restraint. The Russian Foreign Ministry put out a statement last Friday warning that the situation in northeastern Syria must not be allowed to destabilise further.
Describing the issue as a matter ‘of the most serious concern,’ the ministry called for talks between the Syrian government and the Kurdish militants, and said it was ready to help facilitate such dialogue.
The plea came a day after Russia and the United States used their veto power at the United Nations Security Council to vote down a European statement against Turkey’s invasion.
Five European members – France, Germany, Belgium, Britain and Poland – had called the meeting to end the unilateral military action.
The US has long been providing the YPG and SDF militants with arms, calling them a key partner in the purported fight against the Takfiri Daesh terrorist group in Syria. Many observers, however, see the support as part of Washington’s plans to carve out a foothold in Syria through regime change.
Erdogan said on Thursday that his country’s forces had already killed, injured or captured a total of 109 Kurdish forces. However, the SDF said the number was exaggerated.
The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which is based in London, said at least 16 SDF militants had been killed and dozens more injured.
The International Rescue Committee aid organisation said an estimated 70,000 people have fled their homes and the number could surpass 300,000 if the offensive continues at this rate.
On Friday, EU Council President Donald Tusk condemned as attempted ‘blackmail’ Erdogan’s threat to allow millions of refugees to head to Europe if the EU bloc criticises Ankara’s incursion.
‘Turkey must understand that our main concern is that their actions may lead to another humanitarian catastrophe, which would be unacceptable,’ Tusk said while on a visit to EU member Cyprus.
‘Nor will we ever accept that refugees are weaponised and used to blackmail us. That is why I consider yesterday’s threats made by President Erdogan totally out of place.’
Erdogan made his comments on Thursday.
‘Hey EU, wake up. I say it again: if you try to frame our operation there as an invasion, our task is simple: we will open the doors and send 3.6 million migrants to you,’ he said.
The refugees are the result of the eight-year conflict in Syria, which both Turkey and the EU have helped to stoke up.
- Turkish warplanes and artillery hit northeast Syria on the third day of the incursion that has already forced tens of thousands to flee.
Heavy fighting was reported on Friday amid reports that Syrian Kurds had regained control of two of the 11 villages lost earlier.
‘There is heavy fighting between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Turks on different fronts, mostly from Tal Abyad to Ras al-Ain,’ the Syria Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Observatory said SDF Kurdish militants were using ‘tunnels, trenches and berms’ in their defence operations while Turkish forces relied on airstrikes, heavy artillery and rocket fire.
Since the beginning of the Turkish invasion on Wednesday, at least 10 civilians along with least 29 Kurdish militants have been killed, according to the Observatory. Another six fighters belonging to armed groups led by Turkey have also been reported killed.
The Turkish Defence Ministry confirmed on Friday that it had lost one soldier and that another three had been injured, marking Turkey’s first confirmed casualties since it began the incursion.
The US gave Turkey the green light to launch the incursion into northeast Syria last week by withdrawing its troops from Syria’s Kurdish-controlled border region.
The move was seen by Kurdish forces as a ‘stab in the back’ by their supposed ally in Washington.
Ankara claims it wants to create a ‘safe zone’ stretching about 120 kilometres south of the Turkish border and 30 kilometres deep into the Kurdish-controlled region in northern Syria.
The United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs announced on Thursday that an estimated 70,000 people had already been displaced since Ankara launched the incursion.
Civilians were reported to be fleeing the affected areas by vehicle and on foot, carrying their belongings on their backs.
Fourteen humanitarian organisations, including Doctors of the World, Oxfam and the Norwegian Refugee Council, issued a statement warning of the potential humanitarian costs of the conflict.
‘An estimated 450,000 people live within five kilometres of the Syria-Turkey border and are at risk if all sides do not exercise maximum restraint and prioritise the protection of civilians,’ the joint statement said.
Kurdish fighters have warned that the Turkish incursion may enable prisoners belonging to the Daesh terrorist group to escape. About 12,000 men linked to Daesh are held in seven detention centres across northeast Syria, according to the Kurds.
And last Thursday, Kurdish authorities said a prison housing terrorist fighters was hit by Turkish bombardment.
Meanwhile, French State Secretary for European Affairs, Amelie de Montchalin, warned that sanctions against Turkey will ‘be on the table’ during the European Union’s emergency summit this week.
‘We will not remain powerless when faced with a situation that is shocking for civilians, the free Syrian forces and the stability of the region,’ she said.
The incursion has drawn strong condemnation from the Syrian government which denounced it as an infringement on its national sovereignty.
Regional states such as Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, as well the Europeans, have voiced their opposition to the Turkish move which has sparked a wave of severe criticism from across the world, with the UN Security Council and Arab League set to hold emergency meetings this week.
In a statement last Thursday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry called for ‘the immediate cessation of attacks and the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Syria.’
Speaking a day earlier, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran acknowledged Ankara’s ‘legitimate’ security concerns, but only ‘the presence of the Syrian military’ and withdrawal of US forces from the region could address those concerns.
On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waded into the crisis, pledging to assist Kurdish militants. ‘Israel is prepared to extend humanitarian assistance to the gallant Kurdish people,’ he said.
Tel Aviv and Washington have long been key supporters of Kurdish militants, with Israel trying to empower separatist elements in a bid to weaken regional governments, particularly Syria.
Earlier this year, the Arabic-language al-Akhbar newspaper reported that Israeli officers have made regular visits to the Kurdish-controlled region in northern Syria.
The report, which echoed a similar report regarding Iraqi Kurdistan, added that Kurdish authorities were selling oil to the Israeli regime.