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Middle East

France calls on Turkey to stop offensive against Syrian Kurds

media Turkish artillery shells YPG positions near the Syrian border on Sunday, 21 January BULENT KILIC / AFP

French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly on Sunday called on Turkey to stop its offensive against Syrian Kurd militias, while Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called for "restraint" in a phone call with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavosuglu. France is calling for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council

"Our priority is the fight against terrorism," Parly told France 3 television. "As a result, anything that could deter those fighting this battle is a bad thing. We must get back to essentials - the fight against terrorism - and all this fighting, notably what is taking place in such a terrible fashion near Idlib and elsewhere, must stop."

A foreign affairs ministry statement echoed her words, insisting on the "overwhelming importance of concluding the mission against Daesh", the term used by French diplomats to refer to the Islamic State (IS) armed group.

Erdogan claims Kurds running away

Turkish ground troops entered the Afrin area of northern Syria on Sunday morning following artillery and aerial bombardment that started on Thursday.

Their target was the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which has seized the area near the Turkish border from IS with backing from the US and its Nato allies.

But Turkey, although it is a Nato member, is bitterly hostile to the YPG, which it accuses of being an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been fighting the Turkish state for several decades.

Ankara dubs the PKK a terrorist group and the US and EU have adopted its designation.

To read Who are the Kurds? click here

Turkish President Recep Tyyip Erdogan predicted that the offensive would be over in a "very short time", in a speech to a rally in the north-western Turkish city of Bursa that was broadcast on national television.

"We will continue on this path like this, with determination, with belief," he declared. "We will not take a step back."

Erdogan claimed that the YPG was "running away" and warned people not to respond to the Kurdish-based People's Democratic Party's (HDP) call to demonstrate against the offensive.

"Do not even think about it!" he exclaimed. "There will be a heavy price to pay by those who respond to this call."

Call for UN Security Council meeting

In his phone conversation with Cavosuglu, Le Drian called on the Turkish government to "act with restraint in a difficult context where the humanitarian situation is deteriorating in several regions of Syria because of the military operations conducted by Damascus and its allies", his ministry's statement said.

The minister has called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council "because of recent developments on the ground", it added.

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