German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has labeled Turkey’s attack on Kurdish militias in northeast Syria as illegitimate under international law and an invasion, German public broadcaster ZDF reported on Sunday.
Contradicting the German minister, Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) a day later that Turkey’s “European friends should be thankful to Turkish soldiers for doing this very dangerous but important work.”
Ankara, together with its rebel allies fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, initiated an incursion on October 9 against the Syrian People’s Protection Units (YPG) which it deems a “terrorist offshoot” of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) waging a separatist insurgency within the country since 1984.
Since the start of the offensive at least 160,000 people have been uprooted with many being killed. Western countries and human rights organizations have warned that the Turkey-led operation may have been committing war crimes by targeting civilians and carrying out summary executions.
“After everything we know and after everything that Turkey itself has cited as a legal basis, we cannot share that view,” Maas said.
The minister added that Germany was closely following the Turkish move despite a five-day cease-fire reached between Ankara and Washington delegations on Thursday.
The cease-fire agreement meant that the Turkish offensive was halted for 120 hours in order to allow the YPG’s pullback from the region.
“We will do everything for this truce to last longer than just the five days and that the invasion is stopped for the time being,” Maas said.
Last Monday foreign ministers of the European Union (the EU28) countries agreed to limit arms sales to the country, a decision which is meant to send a strong message to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“We have been very clear that we are keeping other measures open — and they might also include economic sanctions,” Maas warned.
With the incursion, Erdogan eyes to form a proposed safe zone in the region where he plans to resettle up to 2million Syrian refugees living in Turkey.
“We also do not agree that Syrian civil war refugees who are now in Turkey are then sent to northeast Syria in this way into this security zone, possibly against their will,” Maas voiced the EU leaders’ opposition to the idea of relocating people.
For Maas, the issue should be discussed with Ankara together with the EU-Turkey migration deal, which sees Brussels pay billions to Turkey to reduce the number of refugees reaching Greece from Turkish soil.
“Because we will not pay money for things that, according to our perspective, are not legitimate or legal,” Maas vowed.
Erdogan repeatedly threatened to open Turkey’s gates for migrants to head Europe if his conditions are not met by the EU.
Last week Erdogan called the German minister a “political dilettante” over Germany’s decision on halting arms exports to his country which is announced by Maas.
“If you understood anything of politics, you would not say that,” Erdogan said, targeting Maas.
Maas, however, stayed Sunday unconcerned with Erdogan’s oral defamation.
“The bottom line is that I still prefer when Mr. Erdogan shoots with words and not with rockets. If we can agree on this matter, he can continue insulting me,” Maas said.
Maas, 53, has been in elected office since 1996 and a Cabinet member since 2013.