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Turkish Military Operations: Syria

Volume 638: debated on Tuesday 27 March 2018

11. What recent discussions he has had with his Turkish counterpart on that country’s military operations in Syria; and if he will make a statement. (904594)

I discussed Afrin with the Turkish Government last week in Ankara, and stressed the importance of humanitarian assistance and protection for civilians. We welcome the progress made against Daesh in Syria. However, violence continues across the country and the humanitarian situation is dire. None of these challenges can be sufficiently tackled without progress on a political solution under the UN Geneva process.

As the Minister knows, it is often said that the Kurds “have no friends but the mountains”. Many times in this Chamber we have praised the Peshmerga and the bravery of the Syrian Kurds in taking on ISIS. Are we going to abandon them to the Turks? What more can we do?

Apart from changing the aphorism to include the right hon. Lady as a friend of the Kurds as well, I would say that the situation there is complex between the various parties. We recognise the concerns that Turkey has about terrorism against its borders, but we have been very clear in stressing that there should be a de-escalation and a political settlement of the issues that affect it.

Christian Aid is saying that there are now 98,000 internally displaced people in Afrin. What assessment has the Minister made of our relationship with Turkey on this matter?

As I indicated, the conversations I had in Ankara last week covered humanitarian assistance and the need to be able to get in to provide that, although the situation remains one of some risk. Afrin has a number of improvised explosive devices and booby traps, which has made progress and humanitarian access difficult. I made very clear the concerns about both humanitarian assistance and the protection of civilians in any ongoing incursion in the area. We stress the need for a de-escalation as quickly as possible.

I call Bambos Charalambous. [Interruption.] I thought that the hon. Gentleman wanted to ask a question. I would not want him to be afflicted by shyness and reticence.

If the objective is to roll back Daesh, then surely the Kurdish community have done that more than any other. Is not what Turkey is doing therefore counterproductive to that objective? Is that something that we should expect from a so-called NATO ally?

I made the point very clearly that progress against Daesh must continue and that there should be no risk of forces being diverted in order to deal with other issues, rather than continue the pressure on Daesh. The Turkish Government are well aware of this risk but stress the importance of dealing with terrorism. There should be a different settlement with other aspects of the Kurdish community, which must be included in an overall settlement in relation to the future structure of Syria.

I wish I could say yes, but that would not be entirely correct. The efforts being made by Staffan de Mistura, whom I also spoke to over the weekend, deserve our full commendation and support, but it is a difficult process. On the ground, there is the determination of the regime and its allies to continue their attacks against both the civilian population and others in the enclaves and areas that they are attacking now. If the regime would co-operate fully with the Geneva process, which it should do, these attacks could end instantly and the political process could be changed overnight.

It was simply appalling to see the victorious militias backed by Turkey rampaging around Afrin, looting shops and houses, and tearing down the city’s Kurdish cultural heritage. May I ask the Minister what that vandalism has to do with what the Foreign Secretary described as Turkey “protecting” its “legitimate interest”?

I cannot speak in any way for the conduct of Turkish forces or anything of the like. As I said to the House earlier, our aims in Syria are coherent: lasting defeat of Daesh, and political transition to a Government who protect the rights of all, including Kurdish communities and all minority groups. All activity that affects the Kurdish community should remember that the ultimate destination of Syria will depend on Kurdish communities feeling part of it, without the risk of terror across its borders, and that should be considered by all.