Majority of Dutch MPs back sanctions against Turkey over Syria offensive

Sigrid Kaag
Sigrid Kaag. (Photo: Rijksoverheid)

A vast majority in the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament, support sanctions against Turkey following a Turkish invasion in northeastern Syria. The Dutch government is looking into a "wide range of measures" against Turkey, Minister Sigrid Kaag of Foreign Trade, standing in for Foreign Affairs Minister Stef Blok who is abroad, said in a parliamentary debate on the matter on Thursday, NOS reports.

The Turkish army started attacking in northeaster Syria on Wednesday, with the aim of expelling Kurdish fighters from the area. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan calls the Kurdish fighters "terrorists". According to the Kurdish forces, a prison detaining ISIS jihadists with 60 different nationalities was hit by Turkish artillery fire. The Kurdish armed forces called it "a clear signal" that Turkey is trying to help them escape. "These attacks on prisons with ISIS terrorists can lead to a catastrophe the consequences of which the world may not be able to bear", the Kurdish forces said in a statement on Thursday.

The Turkish army and militants of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are still fighting in the border towns of Tel Arqam and Ras al-Ain, according to the Syrian regime. Early on Thursday morning, the Turkish Ministry of Defense said that the army had conquered the "pre-designated targets" and that the fighting continued. Exactly what those targets were, was not disclosed. "The operation continues as planned", the Ministry said.

The Netherlands is very concerned by the Turkish invasion of Syria, Minister Kaag said on Thursday. According to her, "the fact that ISIS fighters currently imprisoned by Kurdish fighters may be able to escape, and that even greater chaos can arise" is a humanitarian and security risk.

The government is looking at a "wide range of measures" against Turkey, focusing on measures at a European and NATO level, Kaag told the parliamentarians on Thursday. The government called the Turkish ambassador to account and strongly condemned the invasion. According to Kaag, the ambassador was subject to a "strict conversation this morning and received a strong message". 

The four coalition parties, supported by opposition parties SP, GroenLinks, PvdA,CDA, SGP, 50Plus, and FvD, think that the government should call for punitive measures, such as financial sanctions, against Turkey in a European context. Kaag said that she won't exclude anything, but she does not want to anticipate what penalties will be applied. "If you are talking about sanctions in the legal sense, you also need a legal framework. Usually that is a decision of the UN Security Council or in an EU context."

Earlier on Thursday, Prime Minister Mark Rutte also responded to the invasion. "We are urging Turkey to stop the violence", Rutte said from Australia, where he is on a working visit. Regarding the Kurds in the region, he said: "These are people who have fought against the Islamic State on the West side. So we feel connected to them. That is why Turkey must stop this attack and withdraw from the area." According to him, the Kurds are justifiably "outraged at what is happening. It has a huge impact on their lives".

According to Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld, Turkey is taking irresponsible risks. "For the safety of citizens and regional stability. But also for our fight against ISIS, for which our men and women have worked. We must also not forget what the SDF did to defeat ISIS", she said on Twitter. "After ISIS, stability and security are the key. Dutch soldiers will also contribute to this from Iraq in the coming period as an ally in the anti-ISIS coalition Turkey, also part of that coalition, should repent and cease action."

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