France halts arms exports to Turkey over Syria offensive
France joined Germany on Saturday in suspending arms exports to Turkey over its offensive against Kurdish fighters in Syria, as protesters denounced Ankara at rallies in several European cities.
In a joint statement from the defence and foreign ministries, France said it had suspended all planned exports of "war materials" to Turkey that could be used in their offensive into Syria.
The Paris statement came hours after Germany, one of Turkey's main arms suppliers, also said it had suspended exports.
The move came after Turkish soldiers on Wednesday launched a cross-border assault against Kurdish fighters Turkey sees as terrorists in defiance of international criticism and threats of sanctions.
A number of countries have condemned the controversial offensive, and Finland, Norway and The Netherlands have already announced that they are stopping arms exports to the country.
A European Union's foreign affairs committee meeting on Monday will decide on a coordinated European approach to the issue, the French statement said.
It noted France's "firm condemnation of the unilateral offensive engaged by Turkey in the northeast of Syria".
Both the French and German statements warned that the offensive could have serious humanitarian consequences.
Germany will not issue any new permits for any military equipment that could be used in Syria by Turkey, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was quoted as saying in the Sunday edition of Bild newspaper.
Last year, Germany exported arms totalling almost 243 million euros ($270 million) to fellow NATO member Turkey - almost a third of its total weapons sales of 771 million euros.
And in the first four months of this year, sales to Turkey - its biggest customer in NATO - reached 184 million euros.
Germany's population includes about 2.5 million people of Turkish origin.
Responding to Germany's announcement, Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Germany's Deutsche Welle radio that it was "a question of national security, a question of survival".
Any arms embargo would only strengthen their resolve, he added.
"Even if our allies support the terrorist organisation, even if we are alone, even if an embargo is imposed, whatever they do, our struggle is directed against the terrorist organisation," he said, referring to the Kurdish Peoples' Protection Units (YPG).
The YPG has been the backbone of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces who were the main partner on the ground in the US-led campaign against the Islamic State group.
Ankara considers the YPG a "terrorist" offshoot of Kurdish rebels who have been fighting an insurgency against the Turkish state for three decades.
Since Wednesday, Turkish troops and their Syrian opposition allies have been advancing under the cover of airstrikes and artillery shelling, reaching the Manbij-Qamishli road about 30 kilometres (19 miles) south of the Turkish border.
The UN estimates the number of displaced at 100,000 since Wednesday, saying that markets, schools and clinics are also closed. Aid agencies have warned of a humanitarian crisis, with nearly a half-million people at risk in northeastern Syria.
On Friday, the Pentagon blasted Turkey for its three-day old assault, warning of "serious consequences" for its actions. The Trump administration also threatened sanctions on key Turkish officials over the matter.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, however, has insisted the operation won't stop until the Syrian Kurdish forces withdraw below a 32 kilometre (20 miles) deep line from the border.
Arab leaders on Saturday slammed the offensive as an "invasion of an Arab state’s land and an aggression on its sovereignty," according to Reuters.
The comments were made by the Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Abould Gheit at an emergency meeting of the 22-member body on Saturday to discuss Ankara's cross-border assault, dubbed "Operation Spring of Peace".
Meanwhile, thousands of people marched in several European countries on Saturday to protest the Turkish assault and condemn US President Donald Trump for having abandoned the Kurds as a key ally.
The SDF lost 11,000 fighters in the protracted US-led campaign against IS before finally overrunning the jihadists' self-proclaimed "caliphate" in March, however, Trump has opted to withdraw the US from the current offensive.
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