Qatar defends Turkey's northern Syria operation

Doha (AFP) –


Qatar defended its close ally Turkey's controversial operation against Kurdish forces in northern Syria on Tuesday, saying Ankara had acted against an "imminent threat".

Turkey has helped Qatar weather the effects of a two-year regional economic embargo led by Riyadh over claims of support for Iran and Islamist extremism, denied by Doha.

But Ankara has faced widespread condemnation for its deadly incursion, with the US imposing sanctions on prominent Turkish leaders while France and Germany have halted arms sales.

"We can't put all the blame on Turkey," Qatar's Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani said at a Global Security Forum meeting in Doha, adding that Ankara had been forced to respond to an "imminent threat for Turkish security".

Turkey wants to create a roughly 30-kilometre (20-mile) buffer zone along its border to keep Kurdish forces at bay and also to send back some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees on its soil.

"In the beginning (Turkey) said 'don't support these groups'," Abdulrahman said, referring to Kurdish elements such as the People's Protection Units (YPG) that helped a US-led coalition combat the Islamic State group.

"Nobody listened. They have been trying to solve this issue now for more than a year with the United States, to create a safe zone to get the threat away from their border."

Ankara says the YPG is a "terrorist offshoot" of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.

Chaos in areas targeted in the week-long Turkish assault has already led to the escape of around 800 foreign women and children linked to IS from a Kurdish-run camp, according to Kurdish authorities.

"The YPG and (its political arm the) PYD is from a branch of the PKK which is declared a terrorist organisation in the US, EU, Turkey -- everywhere," said Abdulrahman.

"(Turkey) couldn't reach any solution with the US, they couldn't handle this threat until it became explosive for them."

Abdulrahman said PKK leaders had been seen "migrating to Syria to be stationed there on the border" ahead of Ankara's operation.

"We don't see Turkey against the Kurds. Turkey is against a group of people within the Kurds," he said.