ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – France’s foreign minister told Ankara to not worsen the situation in Syria and, condemning civilian casualties, called Turkey’s military operation in Afrin a violation of international law.
“One can understand that Turkey wants to ensure the security of its borders, it’s a legitimate right, but ensuring the security of its borders does not mean killing civilians,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told France’s BFM TV.
He warned against “adding war to war” in Syria, noting that ISIS is not yet defeated in the country.
Le Drian urged a political solution to address Turkey’s border security concerns.
International law is being violated in Syria by Turkey, Damascus, and Iran, he said, highlighting worsening violence in eastern Ghouta and Idlib.
France’s President Emmanuel Macron had earlier said Turkey must limit its intervention to fighting terrorism and should respect Syria's sovereignty.
"If it turned out that this operation had to take another turn than an action to fight against a potential terror threat at the Turkish border, and that it was an invasion operation, at that moment, this operation would pose a real problem for us," said Macron in a January 31 interview with French newspaper Le Figaro.
Macron spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by telephone on Sunday. Both parties agreed to work on a "diplomatic road map" aimed at ending the nearly seven-year-long Syrian civil war, Macron’s office said in a statement on Sunday.
Erdogan tried to reassure Macron that Turkey's recent operation in Afrin was aimed against "terror elements," state-run Anadolu reported, citing unnamed sources from the Turkish presidency.
Turkey is under increasing international pressure to curtail its offensive on the Kurdish enclave Afrin in northwest Syria.
Following the downing of a Russian SU-25 warplane on Saturday, the Syrian regime has reportedly sent its anti-aircraft system to the north of the country, covering an area that includes Afrin.
This move appears to have affected Turkey’s operation. Turkey has not conducted airstrikes in Afrin in the last couple of days, Rudaw’s correspondent on the Afrin-Turkey border, Shawkat Harki, reported.
Reduced distances between Kurdish positions and the frontlines of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) militias, as well as the presence of Turkish military experts in Afrin may also be contributing to the suspension of airstrikes, Harki reported.
Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch on January 20 against the Kurdish enclave of Afrin, which has been secured by the mainly Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) since the withdrawal of Syrian regime force in 2012.
Erdogan has threatened to extend the operation eastward towards Manbij, where the United States has forces, and as far as the Iraqi border.
The United States and the global anti-ISIS coalition have said they do not intend to withdraw their forces from Manbij, despite Turkey’s demands they do so.
Ankara considers the Kurdish groups in Rojava, northern Syria, terrorists and is irate about the support offered to them by the US for the war against ISIS in the country.
The coalition’s commanding general, Lt. Gen Paul E. Funk, visited Manbij on Wednesday, coalition spokesperson Col. Ryan Dillon tweeted.
SDF: Turkey targeting civilian infrastructure
Fighting continued in Afrin on Wednesday with the YPG-led SDF claiming that Turkish forces and their FSA proxies have targeted civilian infrastructure.
In Maydanki village, a town 12 kilometres north of Afrin city and home to an important dam, the SDF said Turkey and the FSA targeted a primary school, a water treatment station, and civilian homes.
The water treatment station provides drinking water to Afrin city. The SDF stated that maintenance teams are repairing damage due to “random shelling” by Turkey and the FSA.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 123 YPG fighters have been killed and 149 members of the FSA and Turkish forces since January 20.
Afrin health officials say more than 140 civilians have been killed and another 310 injured, Oxfam reported on Monday.
The United Nations Security Council will hold a closed door meeting on Thursday to discuss a UN call for an immediate ceasefire across Syria for at least one month to allow for humanitarian access.
One area of concern for the UN is Afrin, where civilians are “virtually trapped.”
Under growing international pressure, Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) published a statement in English on Twitter – an account that rarely tweets in English.
The TAF repeated previous assertions that its Operation Olive Branch is justified under international law and UN Security Council resolutions.
It also addressed “disinformation campaigns.”
“Necessary measures are being taken with utmost care and sensitivity in order not to harm civilian/innocent people and the environment,” TAF tweeted. “Civilian and innocent people are definitely not being targeted.”