AKCAKALE, Turkey (AP) – The Latest on Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria (all times local):
An official with an organization that assesses terror threats in Belgium has told a parliamentary committee that at least two members of the Islamic State group have fled their detention center in Syria.
Paul Van Tigcheld, head of Belgium’s threat analysis organ, OCAD, told the committee Wednesday: “We know about five (foreign terrorist fighters), three women and two men, who were in camps or prisons, and who are no longer there.”
Last week, Turkey launched a military operation against Kurdish fighters who had been holding thousands of IS militants.
Syrian Kurdish officials said that more than 700 IS supporters escaped from a camp for displaced people in northeastern Syria over the weekend.
Van Tigcheld said “it is now unlikely” that those who escaped are able to reach Europe unseen and without checks.
The U.N. Security Council has expressed “deep concern” over the risk of “terrorists” in northeast Syria escaping and dispersing.
However, the council made no mention Wednesday of Turkey’s offensive in the region against formerly U.S.-allied Kurds following President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. forces.
A very brief press statement from the council following closed political and humanitarian briefings said the council is “also very concerned about the risk of a further deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Syria.”
The five council nations that are members of the European Union then read a statement expressing deep regret that Turkey has not responded to repeated appeals from its allies to halt its military action.
“We do not believe Turkey’s unilateral military action will resolve its underlying security concerns,” the statement said.
A resident and a war monitor say Syrian troops have entered the northern town of Kobani, where Kurdish and U.S. forces first defeated Islamic State group militants together 4 years ago.
Kobani, on the border with Turkey, was one of the first Syrian towns to fall to IS militants in 2014. The U.S.-led coalition supported Kurdish fighters with an intensive air campaign and supplies from the air, cementing the cooperation between the two for years to come.
IS was defeated after a four-month battle that ended in January 2015, the first major defeat for the militants.
On Wednesday, a resident and The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that Syrian government troops drove into the town after dark. The deployment comes after U.S. troops withdrew from the town amid a Turkish offensive launched against the Kurdish fighters last week. Subsequently, the Kurds struck a deal with the Syrian government for protection from Turkey.
Iraqi President Barham Saleh has discussed the situation in northern Syria with a visiting U.S. official and he says they focused on ways of preventing Islamic militants from taking advantage of the chaos to rise again.
A statement by Saleh’s office said he spoke Wednesday in Baghdad with David Schenker, U.S. assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, about ways of supporting Iraq to preserve its security “amid the current challenges.”
There have been concerns that the Turkish military operation against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria might affect the protection of prisons where some 10,000 the Islamic State group members are being held.
The statement said both officials said the extremists should not be given a chance “to revive their criminal activities and threaten the region and world’s security.”
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says Turkey won’t be affected by “sanctions and threats” against Turkey over its military incursion into northeast Syria.
In a speech to Parliament on Wednesday, Cavusoglu also said that Turkey would retaliate against sanctions imposed on the country.
He said: “No sanctions or threats are acceptable and will not affect our resolve.”
“We will give the appropriate answer to these sanctions. We will take the necessary steps,” he added.
The United States has announced a limited set of sanctions on Turkey and U.S. President Donald Trump warned he could obliterate Turkey’s economy.
Several European nations have announced they are halting arms sales to Turkey.
The U.N. Special Envoy for Syria says there must be a cessation of hostilities between Turkish troops and Kurdish fighters as the world is “extremely alarmed by the humanitarian consequences of the crisis.”
Geir Pedersen spoke to reporters after meeting Wednesday with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem saying that he wants to make sure that the fighting in the north is not threatening “the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Syria.”
Pedersen said there is only a political solution also to the crisis in the northeast and “we are appealing on all parties to participate in this.”
The U.N. envoy said he is very optimistic that the committee that will draft a new constitution for Syria will start meeting at the end of the month.
He said it will work “as a door opener for the broader political process that is necessary to find a solution for the crisis in Syria.”
The Kremlin says it expects Turkey’s military action in Syria to be proportionate to its declared goal.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that Russia respects “Turkey’s right to take measures to ensure its security” but also expected it be “proportionate to the task.” He wouldn’t comment on how long Moscow believes the Turkish offensive should last.
Russia moved quickly Tuesday to fill the void left by the U.S. troops’ withdrawal from northern Syria, deploying its military to act as a buffer as Syrian government forces moved north under a deal with the Kurds, who have sought protection from the Turkish offensive.
In Tuesday’s call, Russian President Vladimir Putin invited Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to visit Russia to discuss Syria.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Syrian Kurdish fighters must leave a designated border area in northeast Syria “as of tonight” for Turkey to stop its military offensive.
Erdogan made the comments in Parliament on Wednesday amid pressure for him to call a cease-fire and halt its incursion into Syria, now into its eighth day.
Erdogan made clear Turkey would not bow to pressure and would press ahead with the military operation until Turkish troops reach a depth of some 30 or 35 kilometer inside Syria.
He also called on the world to support Turkey’s battle against Kurdish groups it considers to be “terrorists” for links to an insurgency within its own borders.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says that Russia is committed to mediating between the Syrian government and Turkey in order to ensure security in the region, as a Turkish offensive against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria enters its eighth day.
Lavrov said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies on Wednesday that Moscow will also continue to encourage Syria’s Kurds and government to seek rapprochement after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the northern border area.
Lavrov also blamed the United States and Western nations for undermining the Syrian state, thus “pushing the Kurds toward separatism and confrontation with Arab tribes.”
Lavrov during his visit to Iraq last week met with the leaders of the Kurdish autonomous region and said that Moscow is sympathetic to their need for autonomy.
Russia has been the most powerful backer of Syria’s President Bashar Assad in the eight-year-old civil Syrian war.
France is calling on European and other members of the coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Syria to regroup as the U.S. abdicates its leadership role in the region.
French Foreign Minister Jean Yves Le Drian said in an interview on French television channel BFM Wednesday that France is notably now looking to Russia, given their “common interests” in defeating IS in Syria.
He said the American military withdrawal from northeastern Syria is forcing European leaders to re-examine their alliance with the U.S. in the region.
Le Drian said France’s “own security is at stake” amid the Turkish offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters.
He said that “to accept this invasion” was giving IS “an open door” to return, as the chaos could allow thousands of Islamic State fighters detained in Kurdish-run prisons to escape.
Russia has moved to fill the void left by the U.S. in the conflict, deploying its forces toward Syria’s border with Turkey.
Turkey’s president says he won’t halt its military offensive in northeast Syria, despite growing pressure and sanctions from NATO allies.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s comments came as Washington, which has announced limited sanctions on Turkey, said U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will travel to Ankara Wednesday to try and reach a cease-fire deal.
Speaking to a group of journalists, Erdogan said he told President Donald Trump: “We could never declare a ceasefire,” adding that Turkey wouldn’t negotiate with “terrorists.”
Erdogan said he was “not concerned” by sanctions imposed on Turkey.
Turkey launched its offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters it considers terrorists after Trump announced he was withdrawing U.S. troops.
Russia has signaled its role as de facto power broker in the conflict, deploying forces near the border following America’s pullout.