Tensions flare up between Turkey and France over Syrian Kurds

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Tensions flared between Ankara and Paris after French President Emmanuel Macron expressed support for the Kurdish militants in Syria, currently the target of a Turkish military operation.

France's support for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), spearheaded by the People's Protection Units (YPG), has angered Ankara at a time when it is fighting the YPG, a group deemed by Ankara as a terrorist organization, in northern Syria.

The Kurdish cause is somewhat of a traditional policy for France since the 1980s when Iraqi Kurds were the target of repression stemming from the Bagdad regime, led then by Saddam Hussein who would later be deposed and then executed after the U.S. troops invaded his country in 2003.

Macron's support dropped like a bombshell in Ankara where Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan flatly lashed out at the NATO partner's attitude. He publicly warned on Friday that France could become a "target" for supporting the YPG.

"France has taken a completely wrong approach," said Erdogan, adding "We hope France will not come to us for help when the terrorists from Syria and Iraq fill their country after being encouraged by their policy."

The French president's support for Syrian Kurds coincided with U.S. President Donald Trump's unexpected announcement that the 2,000 U.S. troops currently deployed in northern Syria will leave Syria "very soon."

Concerns have been raised over the possible confrontation between Turkish and U.S. armies as the Turkish operation in Syria's Afrin was in progress.

The anger towards France, recently visited by the Turkish president and where some lucrative contracts have been signed on the purchase of 25 Airbus airliners for Turkish Airlines, was palpable in Turkish government.

It is believed that the France are taking over, or at least offering to take over the U.S. role in Syria.

"France has crossed the red line there (in Syria) in announcing its support for a group that we insist is engaged in terrorist activities and that we consider as an affiliate to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)," said a source close to the Turkish government.

The PKK is listed as a terrorist movement by the European Union and the United States, while the YPG, which was instrumental in the U.S.-led fight against the Islamic State (IS), is not.

"This is unacceptable. Neither the government nor the people will accept such a stance which undermines our cooperation with France. We hope that this error will be repaired, otherwise our ties would suffer," added the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Macron had a meeting on Thursday at the Elysee Palace with an SDF delegation constituted of YPG members after which a senior Kurdish official said the president had promised to send more troops to the area as part of the coalition's efforts, provide humanitarian assistance, and "mediate" between the Kurds and Ankara, drawing Ankara's harsh reaction.

Speaking to reporters to clarify Macron's comments, a French presidential source said "France doesn't foresee any new military operation on the ground in northern Syria outside of the international coalition."

Yet this clarification was not good enough for Erdogan who on Saturday again took the opportunity of a public ceremony in Istanbul to lash out at France, saying that "if France who is our ally in NATO wants to be with terrorists, it will then suffer the consequences."

"France is saying that we have invaded Afrin, this is far for being the truth. We have liberated civilians from the oppression of bloody gangs (YPG)," he added, blaming openly the French industry giant Lafarge of having built "tunnels and bunkers" for the Kurdish militia in northern Syria.

Meanwhile, in an apparent reaction and warning to Paris, the state-run Anadolu news agency, published a map detailing the location of French military bases in northern Syria. According to Anadolu Agency, nearly 70 French soldiers may currently have operations in northeast Syria as advisors.

France has been the most outspoken critic of the Turkish incursion in the Afrin enclave.

Turkish-French relations have been problematic in recent years. France seems against Turkey's entry into the European Union, proposing a commercial partnership instead. France alongside the U.S. is also concerned with Turkey's growing rapprochement with Russia on the Syrian war and on major commercial and energy issues.

Furious Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli also joined the chorus on Saturday warning France against increasing its military presence in Syria, stating it would amount to "an invasion."

"If they intend to support terrorist elements or provide direct or indirect protection through their armed forces, it would be a truly calamitous step," the minister said. 

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