UNSC warns of Syria jihadists 'dispersion' risk

Last Updated 17 October 2019, 02:22 IST

The UN Security Council warned in a unanimously adopted statement on Wednesday of a risk of "dispersion" of jihadist prisoners in Syria but stopped short of calling for a halt to Turkey's offensive against Kurdish forces there.

"Members of the Security Council expressed deep concerns over the risks of dispersion of terrorists from UN-designated groups, including ISIL," the statement said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

The Council's 15 members including Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, declared themselves "very concerned (about) further deterioration of the humanitarian situation" in northeastern Syria.

They did not condemn the Turkish offensive -- which the United States is seen as having facilitated by withdrawing troops from northeastern Syria -- nor did they call for a stop to the operation that began on October 9.

But Council members agreed on the danger of IS regrouping, summed up a Western ambassador, who requested anonymity.

The short text proposed by France was adopted following a brief meeting held at the request of the council's European members.

In a separate joint statement, the European members of the Council -- Belgium, Britain, France, Germany and Poland -- stressed the necessity of securing camps where jihadist fighters are being held.

"The secure detention of terrorist fighters is imperative in order to prevent them from joining the ranks of terrorist groups," they said.

Addressing reporters, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, reiterated Washington's demand for a halt to Ankara's offensive -- which Vice President Mike Pence will press when he travels to Turkey later on Wednesday.

"Turkey's military offensive into northeast Syria is undermining the campaign to defeat ISIS, endangering innocent civilians, and threatening peace, security, and stability in the region," she said.

"The United States calls on Turkey to halt its offensive and to declare a ceasefire immediately."

Her Chinese counterpart Zhang Jun, in a rare meeting with journalists, said the Turkish offensive "made the counterterrorism situation more fragile".

He added that securing camps where jihadists are held is "really in the interest of all of us," while Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said that "nobody should pretend this is an issue of Syria and Iraq only."

Thousands of IS prisoners are held in Kurdish-run camps in the region. Two Belgian jihadists have already escaped from detention there since Turkey launched its offensive, the head of the Belgian national anti-terrorist agency said.

The unanimity expressed by Council members Wednesday, although confined to the subject of jihadists, contrasted with initial reactions at the UN late last week.

During an emergency Council meeting at that time, Russia and China blocked the adoption of two separate texts calling for a halt to the offensive -- one sponsored by European members, and the other by the United States.

Europeans and Americans on the Security Council have since been coordinating their efforts more closely, a Western diplomat said under cover of anonymity.

US President Donald Trump denied giving Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a "green light" for the incursion.

Almost a week of deadly bombardment and fighting there has killed dozens of civilians, mostly on the Kurdish side, and prompted at least 160,000 to flee their homes.

The Turkish invasion has also forced the withdrawal of several non-governmental organizations providing assistance to victims of the Syrian conflict, which has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since 2011.

(Published 17 October 2019, 02:22 IST)

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