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Turkish military offensive against Kurds will cause 'massive displacement' of people, EU warns Erdogan

Spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic warned of "massive displacement" in the case of Turkish offensive [Getty]

Date of publication: 7 October, 2019

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Turkey has sent reinforcements to the border in recent weeks and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned the long-threatened operation against Kurdish militants Ankara could come 'any night without warning.'
The European Union on Monday warned that a threatened Turkish offensive against a Kurdish militia in northeast Syria would harm civilians and cause "massive displacement" of people, reported AFP.

Turkey has sent reinforcements to the border in recent weeks and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned the long-threatened operation against Kurdish militants Ankara regards as terrorists could come "any night without warning."

"The renewed armed hostilities in the northeast will not only exacerbate civilian suffering and lead to massive displacement but will also risk severely undermining current political efforts," spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told reporters in Brussels.

EU foreign ministers will discuss the looming crisis during talks in Luxembourg on Monday, she added.

"While recognising Turkey's legitimate security concerns, the European Union has from the very beginning said that any sustainable solution to the Syrian conflict will not be reached by or through military means, but requires a genuine political transition," she said, urging "unhindered, safe and sustainable" access for humanitarian help.

President Donald Trump has given his blessing to the Turkish operation, saying the US would stand aside when Turkey advances - effectively abandoning the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia, which had been an important American ally in the fight against the Islamic State group.

This comes in parallel to a US withdrawal of troops from the area, opening the way for Ankara's threatened military invasion and heightening fears of a jihadist resurgence.

The withdrawal from key positions along Syria's northern border came after the suprise announcement by the White House, when President Donald Trump said it would step aside to allow for a Turkish operation President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said could come at any moment.

"The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial 'Caliphate,' will no longer be in the immediate area," the White House said, using an alternative acronym for IS.

Ankara says it wants to urgently establish a "safe zone" on the other side of the border in which to send back some of the 3.6 million refugees who fled the eight-year war in Syria and live on Turkish soil.

But the Kurds argue that Turkey's goal is to weaken the Kurdish presence in the region by modifying the demographics of the area with the return of mostly Sunni Arab refugees.

The SDF, which has repeatedly complained that US President Donald Trump's declared intention to pull out of Syria was a historic betrayal, warned of the risks that a Turkish invasion would carry for the region.

The organisation, which spearheaded - with backing from the US-led coalition - several of the most significant battles against IS over the past five years, vowed to resist any Turkish attack.

"As the Syrian Democratic Forces, we are determined to defend our land at all costs," it said in a statement posted on social media.

The United Nations said on Monday it was "preparing for the worst" in northeast Syria after the US announcement of its retreat and advancement of Turkish military operations. 

"We don't know what is going to happen... we are preparing for the worst," UN regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, Panos Moumtzis, said in Geneva, stressing that there were "a lot of unanswered questions" about the consequences of the operation.

Moumtzis added that the UN was "in contact with all sides" on the ground.

But he made clear his office did not have advance warning about the US decision that effectively abandons the Kurds, who were Washington's main ally in the long battle against the so-called Islamic State group.

Moumtzis said the UN's priorities were to ensure that any prospective Turkish offensive not result in new displacements, that humanitarian access remain unhindered and that no restrictions be put in place on freedom of movement. 

The UN has a contingency plan to address additional civilian suffering, but "hopes that will not be used," Moumtzis said.

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