Western powers on Friday rejected a Russian bid at the UN to halt Turkey’s military actions in Syria, as France warned of a dangerous escalation in the nearly five-year conflict.
The emergency UN Security Council meeting came as US Secretary of State John Kerry cautioned there was “a lot more work to do” for a ceasefire to take hold in Syria, following talks in Geneva between US and Russian officials.
In related news, US President Barack Obama, in a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, urged the Ankara government and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia to “show reciprocal restraint” in northern Syria.
The elusive truce was meant to begin on Friday, but failed to materialize as fighting raged in Syria with Kurdish-led forces backed by US-led air power seizing a key town from the Islamic State group.
Russia, which has been carrying out air strikes in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, has urged the UN to press Turkey to halt its shelling of Kurdish forces in the country’s north.
Moscow presented a draft resolution that “strongly demands” an immediate end to cross-border shellings and plans — supported by Turkey — for foreign ground intervention in Syria.
However, the text failed to garner support from key council members with at least six countries including veto-wielding France and the US rejecting it outright during a closed-door meeting, diplomats said.
US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power accused Moscow of trying to “distract the world” from its air campaign in support of the Syrian regime and urged it to abide by UN resolutions supporting a peace process.
“Russia must understand that its unconditional support to Bashar al-Assad is a dead end and a dead end that could be extremely dangerous,” French Ambassador to the UN Francois Delattre said. “We are facing a dangerous military escalation that could easily get out of control and lead us to uncharted territory.”
Turkey is pressing for a joint ground operation in Syria with its international allies, insisting it is the only way to stop the war.
Turkish Ambassador to the UN Yasar Halit Cevik said his country was facing “national security threats emanating from Syria” in reference to the Kurdish militias it is targeting in the country’s north.
In a telephone call with Erdogan, Obama said that Kurdish YPG forces “should not seek to exploit circumstances in this area to seize additional territory, and urged Turkey to show reciprocal restraint by ceasing artillery strikes in the area,” a White House statement said.
Obama, in an apparent reference to Russia, also “urgently called for a halt to actions that heighten tensions with Turkey and with moderate opposition forces in northern Syria, and undermine our collective efforts in northern Syria to degrade and defeat ISIL [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant].”
On the ground, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance — which the powerful YPG and smaller Arab groups — seized the northeastern town of al-Shadadi from Islamic State militants, with backing from US-led airstrikes, a monitor and Kurdish sources said.
Al-Shadadi was the largest town controlled by the Islamic State group in Hasake Province, and the defeat extends earlier losses for the extremists there.
SDF forces earlier seized a nearby oilfield from the Islamic State group and cut the routes from al-Shadadi to Mosul in neighboring Iraq as well as the Islamic State’s de facto Syrian capital, Raqa.
The SDF began a new operation in Hasakeh on Tuesday, following major advances by its forces in northern Aleppo Province, where it has seized territory from Syrian rebel groups.
Its advances in Aleppo have angered Turkey, which says the YPG is the Syrian affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, an outlawed group that has waged a decades-long insurgency against Ankara.
Turkey has carried out nearly a week of shelling against SDF positions in Aleppo, intensifying its fire on Friday and expanding it to target the Kurdish town of Afrin.
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