UN Security Council concerned by situation in northeast Syria

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The UN Security Council said on Wednesday that it was concerned by the risks of a deterioration in the humanitarian situation in northeast Syria and the escape of ISIS fighters, but made no reference to a Turkish assault on Syrian Kurdish militia in the area that began a week ago.

The 15-member council agreed the brief statement after meeting for the second time behind closed doors since the Turkish operation began, forcing tens of thousands of civilians to flee and raising doubt about the fate of thousands of ISIS fighters in Kurdish jails.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft said separately after the council meeting that the United States called on Turkey to “cease undermining the campaign to defeat ISIS, cease endangering civilians, cease threatening peace, security and stability in the region, cease its offensive and declare a ceasefire immediately.”

The Turkish assault forced the United States to pull its forces out of northern Syria. Syrian government forces, backed by Washington’s adversaries Russia and Iran, have swiftly advanced into territory formerly patrolled by US troops.

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The UN Security Council “expressed deep concern over the risk of the dispersion of terrorists from UN-designated groups, including ISIS, and are also very concerned over the risk of a further deterioration of the humanitarian situation.”

Such Security Council statements are agreed by consensus. An attempt last Thursday to produce a statement failed, diplomats said. Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters at the time that the council “should take into account other aspects of the Syrian crisis not just the Turkish operation.”

The council met on Thursday last week and on Wednesday at the request of its European members Germany, France, Belgium, Britain and Poland. They jointly called on Turkey to stop its military action.

“We deeply regret that Turkey has not responded yet to these repeated appeals from its allies as we do not believe Turkey’s unilateral military action will address its underlying security concerns,” the European members said in a joint statement on Wednesday after the Security Council meeting.

“Turkey’s ongoing military action seriously undermines the stability and security of the whole region, resulting in more civilian suffering, displacement and the severe hindering of access to humanitarian assistance,” they said.

Turkey has justified its action under Article 51 of the UN Charter, which covers an individual or collective right to self-defense against armed attack. It told the UN Security Council in a letter last week that its military operation in northern Syria would be “proportionate, measured and responsible.”

Earlier on Wednesday, US President Donald Trump played down the crisis in Syria touched off by Turkey’s military operation against US-allied Kurdish forces, saying the conflict was between Turkey and Syria and that it was “fine” for Russia to help Damascus.