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Macron tells Erdogan Syria ceasefire must apply to Afrin

AFP , Monday 26 Feb 2018
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French President Emmanuel Macron told his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday that a proposed UN ceasefire for Syria must be applied across the country, including in Afrin where Turkey is waging an offensive against a Kurdish militia.

During a telephone call between the two leaders, Macron said the 30-day ceasefire "involved all Syrian territory, including in Afrin, and must be put into effect everywhere and by everyone without delay", the French presidency said.

He added that Turkey, Russia and Iran, the three countries overseeing talks in Astana aimed at ending the nearly seven-year civil war, "have a direct responsibility in this regard that must be applied on the ground".

Ankara last month launched an offensive against the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia in Afrin in northern Syria.

On Sunday the Turkish government said the proposed UN ceasefire would not affect its operation, which it claims is aimed at fighting "terrorist organisations that threaten the territorial integrity and political unity of Syria".

Turkey sees the YPG as the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which for more than three decades has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state and is banned by Turkey, the US and the European Union as a terror group.

But the offensive has raised tensions with Washington, which works closely with the YPG in the fight against jihadists in Syria.

According to sources in the Turkish president's office, Erdogan told Macron that measures were being taken to avoid civilian casualties in Afrin.

Erdogan also reiterated that the offensive was aimed at "clearing terrorists" from the area so that Syrian refugees could return to their country.

On Monday, the Turkish government said it had deployed special forces in Afrin in anticipation of a "new fight" against the YPG.

The Syrian conflict has also intensified recently with attacks by Damascus on the rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta, with at least 10 civilians killed in the area on Monday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group.

Macron told Erdogan he was "deeply worried" about the bombardments of Eastern Ghouta, saying France would remain "vigilant" concerning humanitarian access to the area and any use of chemical weapons.

The Syrian Observatory said one child died and at least 13 other people suffered breathing difficulties in an Eastern Ghouta village after a suspected chemical attack on Sunday.

Earlier this month Macron warned that France would carry out strikes against the government of President Bashar al-Assad if proof emerges that it has used banned chemical weapons against civilians.

More than 500 people have been reported killed in the bombing campaign by Assad's forces over the course of a week.

On Saturday the UN Security Council approved a resolution calling for the ceasefire "without delay" to allow for aid deliveries and medical evacuations in the region.

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