EU looks to stop arm sales to Turkey

AP , Monday 14 Oct 2019

Despite the criticism from its NATO allies, Turkey showed little sign of relenting its military offensive against Kurdish groups in northern Syria, in its sixth day

TOPSHOT - A Turkish-backed Syrian fighter fires during clashes in the border town of Ras al-Ain on October 13, 2019, as Turkey and its allies continue their assault on Kurdish-held border towns in northeastern Syria. (Photo AFP)

The European Union has unanimously condemned Turkey's military move into northern Syria and asked all member states to stop selling arms to Ankara.

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said in an interview with The Associated Press that the 28 member states ``have unanimously decided to condemn - that is the verb, not concern, not worry - but to condemn in strong terms what in the end is a military attack.''

Borrell said the EU called on Turkey ``to stop immediately these military actions.'' He said that at the meeting of EU foreign ministers, the member states ``call also (on) all member states to stop selling any kind of arms'' to Turkey.

Despite the criticism from its NATO allies, Turkey showed little sign of relenting its military offensive against Kurdish groups in northern Syria, in its sixth day.

A French diplomatic official says his country has no choice but to pull out its troops from Syria, following the U.S. decision to withdraw amid the Turkish offensive in the border area.

The official stressed Monday that France only has a small number of troops on the ground that cannot stay in the current conditions.

The official, speaking anonymously, was not allowed to disclose publicly the sensitive information.

French President Emmanuel Macron said overnight that ``security measures'' were to be put in place in the coming hours for French military and civilian personnel in the zone. Some French aid workers are also present in the region.

France has deployed an estimated few hundred special forces in the battle against the Islamic State group in Syria, but its military never comments on its special forces. The country has also contributed to coalition airstrikes, mostly through reconnaissance.

France joined the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq in September 2014 and in Syria in September 2015.

Turkey's defense minister is accusing Syrian Kurdish fighters of ``emptying'' a prison in northeast Syria holding Islamic State group militants before Turkish troops arrived in the area.

Hulusi Akar said Monday the prison was the only one holding IS militants located in the border strip east of the Euphrates River targeted in Turkey's military offensive.

Hundreds of Islamic State families and supporters escaped from a holding camp in Syria amid the fighting between Turkish forces and the Kurds. It was not immediately clear if Akar was referring to that camp.

Turkey's cross-border incursion, now into its sixth day, has raised the specter of an IS resurgence.

Turkey says it is determined to fight the IS group in addition to the Syrian Kurdish forces that it considers a threat because of their links to outlawed Kurdish rebels in Turkey.

The Kremlin says Russia and Turkey have been in close contact about the Turkish offensive in northern Syria.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday that Russian and Turkish officials have remained in close contact.

Moscow has taken a careful stance on the Turkish operation, emphasizing the need to respect Syria's territorial integrity but also noting Turkey's right to secure its border.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Russian President Vladimir Putin just before launching the attack Thursday.

Asked if there is a danger of a clash between Russian and Turkish forces in Syria, Peskov said ``we don't want to even think about that,'' adding that there is a link between the two militaries to prevent any incidents. He wouldn't comment on the Syrian army's move north against Turkish forces.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has criticized NATO allies which are looking to broaden an arms embargo against Turkey over its push into northern Syria.

Speaking in Istanbul on Monday, Erdogan said he had spoken to Germany's Angela Merkel and Britain's Boris Johnson, adding that both leaders did not ``know the truths'' about Turkey's operation and were under a ``serious disinformation pressure.''

European Union foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg were scheduled to discuss expanding an arms embargo. Germany, France and the Netherlands have already suspended arms sales to Turkey.

Erdogan said: ``We are a NATO ally. Please note that these countries are all NATO countries.''

He added that Turkey was threatened by ``terror'' organizations in Syria, referring to Kurdish groups that Ankara considered a threat for links to a long-running insurgency within its own borders.

Syria's Kurds were key allies in the U.S.-led coalition's fight against the Islamic State group.

Meanwhile, the president of Ireland is urging Turkey to stop its offensive in northern Syria in favor of pursing diplomacy.

Michael Higgins expressed his ``deep concern'' over Turkey's unilateral intervention in Syria amid concerns over the possibility of a humanitarian disaster.

He says the possibility of a forced return of Syrian refugees in northern Syria is ``appalling'' and ``unacceptable.''

The Irish president says any attempt at demographic change in that part of the country ``must appall the international community.''

Higgins was speaking after talks Monday with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.

The Irish president's appeal comes as Syrian government forces are reportedly moving against Turkish forces in the north of the county following an agreement with besieged Kurdish forces.

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