Turkey's Erdogan defends operation in Syria after wave of criticism
Updated 20:59, 10-Oct-2019

President Tayyip Erdogan defended Turkey's military operation in northern Syria on Thursday after a wave of international criticism, saying the operation would support Syria's territorial integrity by confronting Kurdish control of the country's northeast.

"They are not honest, they just make up words," Erdogan said of Turkey's critics, singling out Saudi Arabia and Egypt. "We, however, create action and that is our difference," he told members of his AK Party in Ankara.

As Erdogan claimed that the operation aims to "prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area."

Faced with criticism, Erdogan threatened to send the 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey to Europe if European countries label the country's operation in Syria as an occupation.

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"We will open the gates and send 3.6 million refugees your way," Erdogan said in speech to lawmakers from his AK Party.

Turkey launched a military operation against Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria on Wednesday, days after U.S. President Donald Trump pulled American troops out of the way.

Turkish army shelled Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad line in northern Syria with storm howitzers, backed by strikes by F16 fighter jets, a Turkish official told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.


Syrian Kurdish: Islamic State jail may break

A senior Kurdish official warned on Thursday that Islamic State (ISIL) militants could break out of prisons in northeast Syria as fighting intensifies between the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Turkey.

Badran Jia Kurd told reporters the number of security forces guarding the ISIL detainees would have to be reduced as the Turkish forces step up an offensive that got underway on Wednesday.

"This attack will definitely reduce and weaken the guarding system for those Daesh militants in the prisons," he said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIL.

"This could lead to their escape or to behaviors that may get out of the control of the security forces," added Jia Kurd, adviser to the Kurdish-led authority running much of north and east Syria.

"The number of forces guarding the prisons is reduced the more the battles intensify. This poses a grave danger."

The SDF holds thousands of ISIL fighters in prisons and tens of thousands of their relatives in camps, many of them foreigners. With the Kurdish YPG militia at its forefront, the SDF defeated jihadists in swaths of north and east Syria with U.S. help including ground forces and air power.

Kurds living in Cyprus take part in a demonstration against Turkey's military action in northeastern Syria, outside the American Embassy in Nicosia, Cyprus, October 10, 2019. /Reuters Photo

Kurds living in Cyprus take part in a demonstration against Turkey's military action in northeastern Syria, outside the American Embassy in Nicosia, Cyprus, October 10, 2019. /Reuters Photo

Russia to push for Turkey-Syria 'dialogue' on Kurds

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday that Ankara and Damascus should discuss the issue of Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria directly, calling Turkey's cross-border assault a product of U.S. policies. "We will strive for the necessity of dialogue between Turkey and Syria," he said.

Turkey has "legitimate concerns about the safety of its borders" but had not been able to properly raise them with Damascus as this was "made difficult by the actions of the Americans and the coalition" east of the Euphrates river, he said.

"We have warned for many years about the extreme danger of the experiment that the Americans were staging there in an effort to pit the Kurds against Arab tribes," Lavrov told journalists in Turkmenistan.

"We warned against playing the Kurdish card because it can end badly," he said.

A Turkish military convoy is pictured in Kilis near the Turkish-Syrian border, Turkey, October 9, 2019. /Reuters Photo

A Turkish military convoy is pictured in Kilis near the Turkish-Syrian border, Turkey, October 9, 2019. /Reuters Photo

Kurdish forces controlling parts of northern Syria said they repulsed Turkish ground attacks on Wednesday and Thursday, but the Turkish defense ministry insisted its "Operation Peace Spring" would go ahead to curb the power of Kurdish insurgents.

Moscow will "see what can be done" in using its "good relations with all parties" to prevent another crisis in Syria, Lavrov said.

"We will also push to get contacts going between Damascus and Kurdish organizations," he said.

"We are interested in calming this situation as quickly as possible, based on the principle of respect toward Syria's sovereignty."

International reactions on Turkish offensive in Syria

China urges Turkey to exercise restraint and says Syria's sovereignty must be respected, calling for joint efforts by the international community to create favorable conditions for the political settlement on Syria's problems and avoid creating new complex factors.

U.S. President Donald Trump has warned that he will devastate Turkey's economy if Ankara goes too far in its attack on the Kurds in Syria. He called the Turkish assault a "bad idea" and expected Turkey to protect civilians and religious minorities and prevent a humanitarian crisis, he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called on his Turkish counterpart to avoid actions that would jeopardize peace efforts in the region.


France's foreign ministry on Thursday summoned the Turkish ambassador to Paris over Ankara's air and ground offensive into Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Syria, a diplomatic source said.

"The ambassador in France was summoned in the early afternoon," the source said Thursday which was later confirmed by Turkish Ambassador Ismail Hakki Musa. "I am (summoned), I'm going later on," he told reporters.

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World reactions to Turkey's military advance into Syria

On Wednesday, Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok also summoned Turkey's ambassador to condemn Ankara's assault. "I call on Turkey not to follow the path it has chosen," Blok said on Twitter. 

Meanwhile, the 22-nation Arab League is set to hold an emergency meeting on the Turkish incursion in Syria. An Egyptian diplomat called it an "unacceptable attack".

The United Nations has also expressed concern over the situation in Syria, calling for the quick and smooth implementation of a security zone and for the protection of all civilians.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged Ankara rethink its actions and calls for an "immediate halt" to the Turkish offensive.

The European Union also called for calm, saying a long-term solution does not require military means, but a genuine political transition.

(With input from Xinhua, Reuters, AFP)

(Cover: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a meeting of his ruling AK Party in Ankara, Turkey, October 10, 2019. /Reuters Photo)