French President Emmanuel Macron issued a stark warning to Turkey on Wednesday, as Ankara’s military incursion into a Kurdish-held enclave of Syria deepened.
The French leader called on Recip Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, to coordinate the country’s activities in Syria within the framework of its allies. His call came as Turkey challenged the US to “immediately withdraw” from the town of Manbij as commanders overseeing the incursion eye the next target in the operation in northern Syria.
Speaking to Le Figaro newspaper, Mr Macron said "If it turns out that this operation takes a turn other than to fight a potential terrorist threat to the Turkish border and becomes an invasion operation, (then) this becomes a real problem for us," he said.
French officials are alarmed that the Turkish have openly violated Syrian borders to target the YPG, a Kurdish group that have played a significant role in the fight against ISIL. They claim the operation detracts from efforts to crush ISIL.
In comments that also reflected concern at Mr Erdogan’s increasingly close ties to Russian diplomatic efforts on Syria, Mr Macron said he would talk to the Turkish leader about inclusive dialogue with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. “I want to convince the Turks and the Russians that we can build this truly inclusive solution, and then the Syrian opposition will come (to the negotiations) and the Russians must bring in the regime of Bashar al-Assad,” he said.
Russian news agencies have claimed that hundreds, including civilians, had been killed during the Turkish operation in Afrin. In response, Kurdish militants reportedly shelled villages on the Turkish side of the border in the province of Reyhanli.
But despite international criticism, Turkey continued to ramp up the operation on Wednesday, according to Rami Abdul Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
"Turkish forces dispatched new military reinforcements overnight, including fighters and equipment, to Shinkal in an attempt to consolidate their control over several points and support attacking forces" he told AFP.
The operation dubbed “Olive Branch” had seen Turkish jets pound YPG positions throughout Afrin. Turkish forces also announced their intention to move on the city of Manbij, home to a major US base and a city Turkish President Recap Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to “clean up”.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said “it’s necessary for them [US] to immediately withdraw from Manbij”.
Equally as unwavering was Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildrim, who directly hit back at Mr Macron claiming the operation was being carried out against “terrorist organisations”. He said "This is a crooked idea from the start. The whole world knows that Turkey is not acting with an invasive mind. They should know it."
Thousands of Turkish troops, working alongside Turkish-backed Syrian rebels, entered Kurdish-held northern Syria on January 20th in an effort to clear out the YPG-held area of Afrin. Though the YPG have served as the west’s primary partner on the ground in the fight against Isis, Turkey considers them a terror group, citing their strong links to the PKK – a Kurdish guerilla group which has run a decades long insurgency against the Turkish government.
The operation coincided with controversial Russian backed peace talks at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, which were largely seen as having ended in farce after widespread boycotts.
Despite the UN officially boycotting the talks, the UN's special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, was in attendance, he said he hoped the talks could contribute to the Geneva process.
“I have taken, on behalf of the UN and the Secretary-General, António Guterres, due note and careful note that in your Final Declaration today you have embraced 12 principles developed in the Geneva political process, which describe a vision of Syria that all Syrians should be able to share.”
Last week also saw the conclusion of the ninth round of talks in the UN-backed Geneva peace process, and European diplomats fear they are being elbowed out of the peace process by Turkish military incursions and Russia’s diplomatic panache.
A British diplomatic source told The National "There is no doubt that everything that is going on is giving us very little room to manoeuvre".