Hundreds of civilians are fleeing Afrin city as Turkish forces advance. Photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Acknowledging that Kurds are close ally of the United Kingdom in the war against ISIS and stressing that the UK has raised to Turkey its concerns about protection of civilians in Afrin, the British Minister of State for the Middle East said that political “complexities” makes a resolution difficult.
Taking questions from British lawmakers from across the political spectrum, many of whom said they have Kurdish communities in their constituents who are angry and sad about the Turkish military offensive on Afrin, Minister Alistair Burt said that the British government is closely following developments and has been in contact with Ankara, including at the leader level.
Prime Minister Theresa May has raised the need for protection of civilians and proper humanitarian access with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Burt said.
Turkey has assured Britain that it is working to protect civilians in answer to the UK repeatedly raising its concerns. “We believe the Turkish government and we will hold them to their statement,” said Burt.
Though the UK has many concerns about the operation and the protection of civilities, Burt repeated that they “recognize Turkey’s legitimate security concerns.”
Turkey considers the Kurdish groups in Afrin and Rojava as branches of the PKK, a named terror organization, and has framed its Operation Olive Branch as a counter-terror one.
Burt said the UK recognizes some similarities in ideology between the YPG in Rojava and the PKK, “but not the direct link that is claimed by Turkey.”
However, “complexities of the politics in that area, in parts of Syria, in Iraq, in Turkey are what has led to the present situation,” and finding a solution is difficult, he noted.
Kate Osamor, a Labour MP and Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, spoke in much harsher terms, saying “We can never excuse throwing the word terrorism around to justify human rights abuses.”
“The incursion is neither legitimate nor justified. It should never have been allowed in the first place and it has no basis in international law. An olive branch… there could hardly have been a less suitable name for the assault,” she said.
She condemned Turkey’s “unforgiveable” targeting of civilian areas, saying, “This is not an olive branch. It is a stick to beat the Kurdish community.”
While international agencies like UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) have had to suspend their operations in Afrin because of the military operations, Burt said the UK is working to ensure aid is prepositioned on the ground so that it is available for any civilians fleeing the area.
Related: Hundreds of civilians flee Afrin