Turkey’s leader angrily rejected international criticism of its attack on Kurdish fighters in Syria on the second day of the operation, which world powers fear could further destabilise the already-volatile Middle East.
Taking aim at the European Union and Arab powers Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which have voiced opposition to the military action, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said those objecting to Turkey’s actions were “not honest”.
Erdogan also threatened to send the 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey to Europe if European countries labelled the offensive in Syria as an “invasion”.
“We will open the gates and send 3.6 million refugees your way,” Erdogan warned.
He also blasted regional rivals for their criticism of the military action. “They are not honest, they just make up words,” Erdogan said, singling out Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
“We, however, take action and that is the difference between us,” he told officials from his ruling AK Party in Ankara.
Erdogan said President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi could not condemn Turkey because Egypt under his rule was a “murderer of democracy”.
Turkey’s operation began days after a pullback by US forces from the border, and senior American officials have blasted US President Donald Trump for abandoning Syrian Kurds, loyal allies of Washington in the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, ISIS) in Syria.
Trump called the Turkish assault a “bad idea” and said he did not endorse it. He said he expected Turkey to protect civilians and religious minorities and prevent a humanitarian crisis – as Turkey has said it would.
Turkey’s military action against Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria is aimed at restoring the region’s demographic structure and sending Syrians back to their own homes, Erdogan said, adding “109 terrorists have been killed so far” in the operation.
The United Nations Security Council will meet on Thursday to discuss Syria at the request of the five European members, Britain, France, Germany, Belgium and Poland.
In a letter to the 15-member Council, Turkey said its military operation would be “proportionate, measured and responsible”.
The 22-member Arab League said it would hold an emergency meeting on Saturday.
Russia said it planned to push for dialogue between the Syrian and Turkish governments following the incursion.
Turkey has “legitimate concerns about the safety of its borders” but had not been able to properly raise them with Damascus as this was “made difficult by the actions of the Americans and the coalition” east of the Euphrates river, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.
“We have warned for many years about the extreme danger of the experiment that the Americans were staging there in an effort to pit the Kurds against Arab tribes,” Lavrov told journalists in Turkmenistan.
“We warned against playing the Kurdish card because it can end badly.”
Italy condemned the Turkish offensive as “unacceptable”, saying military action in the past always led to “terrorism”.
The French foreign ministry, meanwhile, called in Turkey’s ambassador for a meeting later on Thursday.
“He will be summoned this afternoon following the offensive on Syria,” said a diplomatic source, speaking on condition of anonymity.