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Escalating situation in north-eastern Syria

Ain Issa refugee camp in northern Syria

Ain Issa refugee camp in northern Syria, © picture alliance/Chris Huby / Le Pictorium/MAXPPP/dpa

14.10.2019 - Article

The Turkish military offensive in north-eastern Syria threatens to further destabilise the country and spark a resurgence of the ISIS terrorist organisation.

What has happened?

A Turkish military offensive has been under way in north-eastern Syria since 9 October. Prior to this, the situation there was relatively stable compared to the rest of the country. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), dominated by the Kurdish “people’s protection units” (YPG), fought as allies of the United States against the ISIS terrorist organisation. They also received substantial military training and support for this purpose. Turkey’s unilateral military offensive is targeting the YPG, which in its view are identical to the Kurdish PKK terrorist organisation. Moreover, the Turkish Government has announced that it intends to relocate to the region Syrian refugees that until now have sought shelter in Turkey. A military escalation in north-eastern Syria could therefore substantially affect both the civilian population and the region.

What is Germany’s position?

The Federal Government condemns Turkey’s military offensive. In its view, as things stand there is no sign that the current situation in Syria would legitimise a military intervention there against Kurdish groups under international law. Through its actions, Turkey is running the risk of further destabilising the region, creating additional migration flows and sparking a resurgence of ISIS. According to the United Nations, 150,000 to 200,000 people have already fled the region.

The Federal Foreign Office has therefore repeatedly and strongly urged the Turkish Foreign Ministry to refrain from its planned military intervention in north-eastern Syria.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas issued the following statement immediately after the offensive began:

We condemn the Turkish military offensive in north-eastern Syria in the strongest possible terms. We call on Turkey to end its offensive and to pursue its security interests in a peaceful manner.

Prior to the EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting, Foreign Minister Maas also announced an even more restrictive arms export policy towards Turkey:

The German Government has already taken a very restrictive line on arms exports since 2016 and in particular since the Turkish military campaign in Afrin at the start of 2018. In view of the Turkish military offensive in north-eastern Syria, the German Government will not grant new export licences for any arms that could be used by Turkey in Syria.

Immediately after the offensive began, and acting on behalf of the five European members of the UN Security Council (alongside Germany, these are France, the UK, Belgium and Poland), Germany requested that a Council meeting be held to address this issue. The EU member states also expressed their concerns about the military offensive in a joint statement issued on 9 October.

This was reinforced at the EU Foreign Affairs Council on 14 October. The EU Foreign Ministers condemned Turkey’s military operation and called upon Turkey to put an end to this unilateral offensive. In addition to expressing concerns about the refugee flows and the resurgence of ISIS, they also emphasised that the current situation presented a significant obstacle to a UN-led political process.

The German Government is supporting the initiation of a political process in Syria. A constitutional committee under the leadership of the United Nations is scheduled to convene for the first time at the end of October, which could mark the beginning of such a process.

What is the German Government doing in north-eastern Syria?

Germany is a member of the Global Coalition against Daesh and is thereby actively helping to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS and its terrorists in Syria and Iraq – including in north-eastern Syria. Germany is making a significant contribution to rebuilding, stabilising and providing humanitarian assistance in areas in Syria and Iraq that have been liberated from ISIS.

Germany is currently the second-largest humanitarian donor in Syria and has pledged 500 million euros in humanitarian assistance for 2019. As part of these efforts, the German Government supports the activities of the World Food Programme, the UN Refugee Agency and the International Red Cross throughout the country. In the northeast, the German Government has made available some 5 million euros in 2019, including aid for refugee camps that provide shelter to people who have fled the battles with ISIS. As the largest donor to the World Food Programme’s efforts in Syria, Germany is playing a significant role in supplying food to these camps.

Stabilising areas liberated from ISIS is an important part of Germany’s engagement. Germany co‑chairs the Working Group on Stabilisation of the Global Coalition against Daesh. In north-eastern Syria, the German Government has since 2017 provided more than 50 million euros for stabilisation measures in areas liberated from ISIS. The focus is on clearing mines left by ISIS and on re‑establishing basic services, such as water supply, waste water treatment and electricity.

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