China urges Ankara to exercise restraint, calling for political settlement of crisis
Turkish troops continued their advance into northern Syria in their fight against Kurdish forces on Thursday, the second day of their offensive in the war-torn country after the withdrawal of the U.S. troops from Syria. Turkey's offensive immediately raised global concerns.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Thursday that China has always held that Syria's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity must be respected and safeguarded.
"We notice that all parties have expressed worries over the consequences that might be caused by Turkey's military action and urged Turkey to exercise restraint," he told a news conference in Beijing.
"We are now seeing a rising momentum for a political settlement of the Syria issue," Geng said, urging related parties in the international community to make joint efforts to create conditions for promoting a political settlement.
The Syrian Kurdish forces said they repulsed a fresh Turkish ground attack in northeastern Syria.
The forces "confronted a field incursion attempt by the Turkish occupation army on the axis of Tal Halaf and Aluk", said a statement from the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF. Led by the Kurds, the SDF is a multiethnic alliance of militias who played an important role in defeating the Islamic State terror group occupying Syrian territory.
The Turkish Defense Ministry, however, insisted the operation was going as planned, and "the designated targets were captured", without specifying what they were, according to the Agence France-Presse.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Wednesday the start of the attack on Twitter in both Turkish and Arabic, following the U.S. decision on Sunday to withdraw its troops from Syria.
Soon after the announcement, jets and artillery targeted Kurdish positions along the full width of the Syrian-Turkish border, the AFP reported.
Calling the attack "Operation Peace Spring", Erdogan said the offensive is necessary to curb the power of the SDF due to its ties with Kurdish insurgents inside Turkey, who have waged a 35-year-long battle for autonomy within Turkey.
The Turkish president said in a tweet that the operation was to "prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area".
Foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands condemned the offensive.
The current president of the United Nations Security Council, South African Ambassador Jerry Matthews Matjila, appealed to Turkey to "protect civilians" and exercise "maximum restraint".
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday said in a TV interview: "The Turks had a legitimate security concern,... they have a terrorist threat to their south." He also denied reports saying that the U.S. gave Turkey a "greenlight" for its offensive in Syria.
Shu Meng, a researcher at the Middle East Studies Institute at Shanghai International Studies University, said Turkey's action would stir up more tensions and turbulence in the region.
A more serious problem, Shu said, is that the operation "will undoubtedly undermine the previous results of fighting regional extremism", as the disbanded extremist forces can easily sneak into the chaos of northeastern Syria.
"Although it is difficult for the Islamic State to make a comeback in the short term and the form of the IS may not be restored, the threat of extremism still exists," she said. "The sporadic threat of extremist attacks and the infiltration of extremists will persist in this turbulent region in the long run."