France, Germany halt arms exports to Turkey as Arab League demands UN action

Thousands throughout Europe protest Turkish assault on Syria’s Kurds, while Ankara remains defiant

Pro-Turkish Syrian fighters gather near the Turkish village of Akinci along the border with Syria on October 11, 2019. (Bakr ALKASEM / AFP)
Pro-Turkish Syrian fighters gather near the Turkish village of Akinci along the border with Syria on October 11, 2019. (Bakr ALKASEM / AFP)

France and Germany on Saturday suspended arms exports to Turkey over its military offensive into northeastern Syria against Kurdish fighters.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told the Bild am Sonntag weekly that “against the background of the Turkish military offensive in northeastern Syria, the government will not issue any new permissions for any weapons that can be used by Turkey in Syria.”

Maas’s remarks came as thousands of Kurdish immigrants rallied against the Turkish military offensive in cities across Germany, which is home to one of the biggest Kurdish communities in Europe.

France said it had suspended all planned exports of “war materials” to Turkey that could be used in the offensive in Syria.

A meeting in Luxembourg Monday of the European Union’s foreign affairs committee will decide on a coordinated European approach to the issue, the statement said.

Meanwhile, Arab foreign ministers condemned Turkey’s “aggression” in Syria, calling for an immediate withdrawal of its troops.

The statement came after an emergency session of the Arab League in Cairo called for by Egypt to discuss Turkey’s assault on the Kurds, who have carved out a fragile semi-autonomy in Syria’s northeast.

Representatives of the Arab League attend an emergency meeting at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo on October 12, 2019, to discuss Turkey’s offensive on Syria. (Mohamed el-Shahed / AFP)

The Arab League called for the United Nations Security Council to take measures to force Turkey to halt its military offensive in Syria and “immediately” withdraw its forces from the Arab country.

A communique after the meeting also urged the Security Council to suspend military and intelligence support that could help Turkey’s offensive.

The deadly offensive launched Wednesday has sparked broad international condemnation and threats of sanctions.

Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit slammed the Turkish attack as an “invasion of an Arab land.”

The ministers called for “ending the aggression and the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Turkey from all of Syria’s land,” the statement said.

The group said Ankara’s offensive was a “direct threat to Arab national security,” adding they would consider “urgent measures to confront the Turkish aggression.

The potential responses included diplomatic and economic actions, as well as “military cooperation to confront the Turkish aggression,” the statement said.

The statement drew swift condemnation from Turkey.

Turkey’s communications director, Fahrettin Altun, slammed the group for “mischaracterizing Turkey’s counter-terrorism operation in northeastern Syria as an ‘invasion'” in a statement issued earlier today.

Turkish-backed Syrian fighters drive an armored personnel carrier near the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad on October 12, 2019. (Bakr ALKASEM / AFP)

“We can only take pride in the fact that governments, which did not mind the terrorist organization [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] PKK’s occupation of a predominantly Arab area, the displacement of Arab civilians from their lands, or the destruction of Arab villages, are unsettled by #OperationPeaceSpring,” he wrote on Twitter.

Ankara says the main Kurdish militia in Syria is a “terrorist” group with links to its own outlawed PKK, which has been waging an insurgency in Turkey for three decades.

The Kurds served as the main ground partner in the US-led fight against the Islamic State group in Syria, where they overran the last scrap of the jihadists’ “caliphate” in March.

Ankara’s military campaign appeared almost inevitable after US President Donald Trump announced Sunday that US troops deployed in northern Syria were pulling back from the border.

Trump has faced a storm of criticism for abandoning a loyal ally in the US-led campaign against IS.

Thousands of people, some shouting “Erdogan terrorist,” took to the streets of Paris and other European cities on Saturday in protest of the Turkish assault.

Protesters marching under the Kurdish green, red and yellow flag waved placards reading “Trump = serial killer” or calling Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “the true leader of Daesh,” the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State jihadist group.

Protestors attend a demonstration against the Turkish military operation in northern Syria October 12, 2019 in New York City. (Johannes EISELE / AFP)

Organizers said “more than 20,000 people” took part in the demonstration in Paris after Ankara stepped up its assault on Kurdish-held border towns in northeastern Syria, defying mounting threats of international sanctions.

“Turkey is invading Rojava (the self-proclaimed Kurdish zone in northeast Syria) and Europe is watching,” they shouted as they marched toward Chatelet in central Paris.

In France, a spokesman for one Kurdish group called for US and EU sanctions against Turkey.

There were similar protests in other French cities, including Marseille, Strasbourg — the seat of the European parliament — Bordeaux, Lille and Grenoble.

People hold a giant Kurdish flag in Marseille on October 12, 2019 during a demonstration to support Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria. (Boris HORVAT / AFP)

Several hundred people demonstrated in the Hungarian capital Budapest outside the Turkish and US embassies, chanting “Trump-Orban-Erdogan dictators!” Viktor Orban is Hungary’s populist right-wing prime minister.

Scores of Kurds also marched through Cyprus’s capital Nicosia, with one protester holding up a banner that read: “Do not be an accomplice to the genocide of the Kurdish nation.”

Thousands marched in Vienna while in Athens, some 1,800 people according to police tried to march on the Turkish embassy, shouting “Erdogan terrorist.”

A similar protest was held in Zurich’s old quarter to the strains of Kurdish music. “Turkish army out of Kurdistan,” the protesters cried. “Stop terror.”

About 5,000 people marched to the Swedish parliament in Stockholm. Similar protests were staged in The Hague, Warsaw and Brussels.

A picture taken in Akcakale at the Turkish border with Syria on October 10, 2019 shows smokes rising from the Syrian town of Tal Abyad. (BULENT KILIC / AFP)

“Turkey is trying to carry out an ethnic cleansing and reinforce jihadism… to make the West kneel,” said Agit Polat, a spokesman for the Kurdish Democratic Council in France, speaking in Paris.

“Since the beginning of the Turkish army invasion operation, dormant Daesh cells have committed attacks. At all costs, there must be concrete economic sanctions from the European Union and the United States vis-a-vis Turkey,” he added.

Polat also urged France to recall its ambassador to Turkey.

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