EU demands Turkey halt Syria operation as NATO chief urges ‘restraint’
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EU demands Turkey halt Syria operation as NATO chief urges ‘restraint’

EU chief says political solution is only way to end the Syrian conflict; NATO calls for Turkey to avoid actions that may further destabilize the region

Smoke billows following Turkish bombardment on Syria's northeastern town of Ras al-Ain in the Hasakeh province along the Turkish border on October 9, 2019 (Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP)
Smoke billows following Turkish bombardment on Syria's northeastern town of Ras al-Ain in the Hasakeh province along the Turkish border on October 9, 2019 (Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP)

EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday demanded Turkey halt its military operation against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, telling Ankara a political solution was the only way to end the Syrian conflict.

He spoke as Turkish forces launched an assault on Kurdish positions, with air strikes and explosions reported near the border.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the start of the attack, which is aimed at curbing the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

The SDF was previously allied to the US, which used it to crush the Islamic State group.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker delivers his State of the Union speech at the European Parliament on September 12, 2018, in Strasbourg, eastern France. (AFP PHOTO / FREDERICK FLORIN)

Juncker told the European Parliament he recognized Turkey had “security concerns” along the border, but he warned the military action would not lead to a “good result.”

“I call on Turkey as well as the other actors to act with restraint and to stop operations already, as we are speaking, under way,” Juncker said.

“I have to say if the Turkish plan involves the creation of a so-called safe zone, don’t expect the European Union to pay for any of it.”

Turkish civilians look at a Turkish army’s convoy driving towards the Syrian border near Akcakale in Sanliurfa province on October 9, 2019 (BULENT KILIC / AFP)

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday urged Turkey to show “restraint” in its operation against Kurdish forces in Syria, warning that the fight against the Islamic State group should not be put at risk.

After NATO member Turkey launched an assault aimed at curbing the SDF, Stoltenberg acknowledged that Ankara had “legitimate security concerns” but called for a measured response.

“NATO has been informed by Turkish authorities about the ongoing operations in Northern Syria. It’s important to avoid actions that may further destabilize the region, escalate tensions, and cause more human suffering,” Stoltenberg said at a news conference in Rome with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, in remarks released by his office.

“I count on Turkey to act with restraint and to ensure that any action it may take in northern Syria is proportionate and measured.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gestures as he delivers a speech during a press conference about the end of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) headquarters, in Brussels, on August 2, 2019 (Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

Erdogan announced the start of “Operation Peace Spring,” saying it aimed to stop a “terror corridor” emerging along Turkey’s southern frontier.

The SDF was previously allied to the US, which used it to crush the Islamic State group. But Turkey says it is linked to Kurdish insurgents inside its own territory.

The assault has been strongly criticized by France and Germany, which warned it risked an IS resurgence, and Stoltenberg said the fight against the Islamists must not be endangered.

“We must not jeopardize the gains we have made together against our common enemy, ISIS,” Stoltenberg said, using another acronym for the jihadist group.

“ISIS continues to pose a grave threat to the Middle East and North Africa, and to all our nations,” he said.

Stoltenberg will visit Istanbul on Friday and he said he would raise the issue with Erdogan.

France said Wednesday it “strongly condemns” Turkey’s offensive in northeast Syria.

European Affairs minister Amelie de Montchalin said France, Germany and Britain were working on a joint declaration “which will be extremely clear on the fact that we very strongly condemn” the Turkish campaign against Kurdish forces in northeast Syria.

The minister also told parliament’s foreign affairs commission that France would bring up the matter at the United Nations Security Council.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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