Washington Capitals forward Brendan Leipsic is apologizing after a private group chat that included misogynistic comments was leaked on Wednesday.
Screenshots from the chat featuring Leipsic, who is from Winnipeg, were published on the Instagram account @angelszeee2020. That account has since deleted them, but they continue to circulate on social media.
In a statement on Twitter, Leipsic said his friend’s account was hacked and acknowledged he was part of those conversations.
“I fully recognize how inappropriate and offensive these comments are and sincerely apologize to everyone for my actions. I am committed to learning from this and becoming a better person by taking time to determine how to move forward in an accountable, meaningful way. I am truly sorry,” Leipsic said.
‘Unacceptable and offensive’
In a statement to CBC Sports, the Capitals said they were investigating the situation.
“We are aware of the unacceptable and offensive comments made by Brendan Leipsic in a private conversation on social media. We will handle this matter internally,” the statement read.
Jack Rodewald, a 26-year-old also from Winnipeg, who has played 10 games with Ottawa Senators since 2018, was also involved in the group chat.
The NHL later released a statement saying it would address the “inexcusable conduct moving forward.
“The National Hockey League strongly condemns the misogynistic and reprehensible remarks made by players Brendan Leipsic and Jack Rodewald…. There is no place in our league for such statements, attitudes and behaviour, no matter the forum,” the statement read.
Leipsic, 25, has played parts of four seasons in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings and Capitals.
Mocks women, teammates
In one instance of messaging in the group chat, Leipsic posted a photo of a former teammate’s wife and wrote “look how fat” she “is lol.”
Leipsic also refers to women as pigs and makes light of other women’s weights in various other messages.
He also insults other NHL players.
In one, he reposted a picture of Canucks forward Jake Virtanen on vacation with friends, calling it “easily the worst crew in the world.”
He also posted a picture of Capitals teammates with the comment “f–k they’re losers.”
Tokyo Olympic organizers and the Japanese government went on the offensive Wednesday after a senior IOC member said the 2020 Games were being threatened by the spread of a viral outbreak, with their fate probably decided in the next three months.
Tokyo organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto abruptly called a news conference late Wednesday afternoon to address comments from former International Olympic Committee vice-president Dick Pound in an interview with The Associated Press.
“Our basic thoughts are that we will go ahead with the Olympic and Paralympic Games as scheduled,” Muto said, speaking in Japanese. “For the time being, the situation of the coronavirus infection is, admittedly, difficult to predict, but we will take measures such that we’ll have a safe Olympic and Paralympic Games.”
The viral outbreak that began in China has infected more than 80,000 people and killed more than 2,700 globally. China has reported 2,715 deaths among 78,064 cases on the mainland. Five deaths in Japan have been attributed to the virus.
Pound has been a member of the IOC since 1978, serving two terms as vice-president, and was the founding president of the World Anti-Doping Agency. He has served 13 years longer than IOC president Thomas Bach. He also represented Canada as a swimmer at the Olympics.
“You could certainly go to two months out if you had to,” Pound told the AP in a telephone interview from his home in Montreal. “By and large you’re looking at a cancellation. This is the new war, and you have to face it. In and around there folks are going to have to say: ‘Is this under sufficient control that we can be confident of going to Tokyo or not?”‘
IOC says Games will go ahead
Pound was speaking as a rank-and-file member and not part of the IOC’s present leadership, but his opinions are often sought in IOC circles.
“That the end of May is the time-limit, we have never thought of this or heard of such a comment,” Muto said. “So when we asked about this we received a response saying that is not the position of the IOC.”
The IOC has repeatedly said the Tokyo Games will go ahead and has said it is following the advice of the World Health Organization, a United Nations agency.
We have cancelled the Games in the past at war time … It’s just a matter of monitoring how this plays out.— Australian IOC member John Coates
Japanese virologist Dr. Hitoshi Oshitani, who formerly worked for the WHO, said last week he could not forecast what the situation would be in five months.
The Olympics open on July 24 with 11,000 athletes, followed by the Paralympics on Aug. 25 with 4,400 athletes.
Australian IOC member John Coates, who heads the inspection team for Tokyo, pointed out that the IOC has an emergency fund of about $ 1 billion US to operate if any Olympics are called off.
Major sports, cultural events to be cancelled in short-term?
“The Games aren’t being cancelled,” Coates was quoted as saying in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. “But if the games were cancelled then the IOC is in the position to continue to fund the member sports and NOCs [national Olympic committees]. But there is no plan to cancel the games.”
He added: “We have cancelled the Games in the past at war time … It’s just a matter of monitoring how this plays out.”
At a government task force meeting Wednesday on the virus outbreak, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he was asking organizers to cancel or postpone major sports or cultural events over the next two weeks.
“The next one-to-two weeks is extremely important for the prevention of the escalation of the infection,” Abe said. “We ask organizers to cancel, postpone or scale down the size of such events.”
He did not name specific events but said he was speaking about nationwide events that attract large crowds.
The three-month window also goes for sponsors and television broadcasters who need to firm up planning. Not to mention travellers, athletes and fans with 7.8 million tickets available for the Olympics and 2.3 million for the Paralympics.
As the Games draw closer, Pound said: “A lot of things have to start happening. You’ve got to start ramping up your security, your food, the Olympic Village, the hotels. The media folks will be in their building their studios.”
Torch relay to start in late March
Muto declined to speculate about the future condition of the virus.
“I don’t think I can talk based on presumptions over what might happen months ahead,” Muto said. “The Prime Minister has announced measures to be taken over the next two weeks and so we, too, are taking that into consideration. The biggest problem would be if this novel coronavirus infection spreads far and wide, so the most important thing to do is to take measures to prevent that from happening.”
He also said the torch relay would go ahead. It is to start in Japan on March 26 in Fukushima prefecture, located 250 kilometres northeast of Tokyo.
“We absolutely do not think of cancelling [the torch relay],” Muto said. “We’d like to think about how to implement it while preventing the spread of infection, including scaling down, or other ways.”
Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto, speaking in parliament on Wednesday, said “we believe it is necessary to make a worst case scenario in order to improve our operation to achieve success.”
She added plans were being made “so that we can safely hold the Tokyo Olympics.”
Also Wednesday, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported that the Colombian Olympic Committee has decided not to participate in pre-Olympic training camps in southern Japan.
Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday a Turkish military operation to push back a Syrian government offensive against rebel strongholds in northwest Syria was now only “a matter of time” after talks with Russia failed to halt the assault.
Turkish troops have already massed inside Syria ready to act and more were heading to the border area.
The Kremlin, which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said a confrontation between Turkish and Syrian forces would be a “worst-case scenario” and Russia would keep working to prevent the situation from worsening.
Syrian troops supported by Russian warplanes and special forces have been battling since December to eradicate the last rebel bastions in Idlib and Aleppo provinces in what could be one of the final chapters of the nine-year-old civil war.
Nearly one million civilians have fled from air strikes and artillery barrages toward the frontier, overwhelming relief agencies and alarming Turkey, which is struggling to cope with the 3.6 million Syrian refugees already camped inside its borders.
Speaking to lawmakers from his ruling AK Party on Wednesday, Erdogan said Turkey was determined to make Idlib a secure zone even while talks with Moscow continued. Several rounds of diplomacy had failed to reach an agreement so far, he said.
“We are entering the last days for the regime to stop its hostility in Idlib. We are making our final warnings,” said Erdogan, whose country has the second-largest army in NATO.
“Turkey has made every preparation to carry out its own operational plans. I say that we can come at any point. In other words, the Idlib offensive is only a matter of time.”
The Turkish leader on Saturday appeared to move forward the end-of-February deadline for a Syrian withdrawal from Idlib that he had previously stated.
Assad, whose family dynasty has ruled Syria for nearly half a century, has showed no sign of bowing to the demand, saying on Monday that his military gains presaged the eventual defeat of his foes. They include Turkish-backed rebels and jihadist militants.
An opposition military source told Reuters that 15,000 Turkish soldiers were now in northwest Syria after numerous convoys of reinforcements and weaponry had poured into the territory in recent days.
“You can’t imagine the scale of Turkish reinforcements, half of Reyhanli is now full of Turkish commandoes ready to enter Syria,” he said, referring to a Turkish border town. “They are readying their forces for zero hour, operations are expected to start any time.”
‘No shelter is now safe’
Ankara and Moscow signed an agreement in 2018 to establish a de-escalation zone in Idlib allowing both sides to set up observation posts. Since the escalation in the conflict, both sides have accused each other of flouting the agreement.
In Moscow on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Syrian forces were upholding previous agreements but also reacting to provocations.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov also said: “If we talk about an operation against legitimate Syrian authorities and armed forces, it is of course a worst-case scenario.”
Russia has a naval base at Tartus and an airbase at Hmeimim. Its war planes launched an air campaign in Syria in 2015, turning the tide of the war in Assad’s favour.
The recent airstrikes in the northwest have hit hospitals and camps for displaced people, the United Nations has said. Close to 900,000 people, most of them women and children, have fled their homes in dreadful winter conditions since December in the biggest displacement of the war.
In the past week the Syrian army has taken full control of dozens of towns in the Aleppo countryside and the M5 highway linking Damascus to Aleppo.
The United Nation human rights chief urged Syrian government forces and their allies to allow safe corridors in conflict areas in northwestern Syria.
Michelle Bachelet told reporters in Geneva it was “cruel beyond belief” that civilians live under plastic sheeting in freezing conditions while getting bombed.
Many of the civilians are sleeping in open fields and under trees in freezing temperatures.
“No shelter is now safe,” Bachelet said. “And as the government offensive continues and people are forced into smaller and smaller pockets, I fear even more people will be killed.”
Over 700,000 civilians have tried to flee fighting in Syria’s north-west Idlib province since December, but with a closed Turkish border, people are effectively trapped. 7:06
About half the region’s population had already fled other parts of Syria, and displacement refugee camps are full. Aid organizations, including the UN World Food Program, have been forced to stop food distribution temporarily because the fighting has disrupted the movement of trucks bringing supplies to the region.
“Children and families are caught between the violence, the biting cold, the lack of food and the desperate living conditions. Such abject disregard for the safety and well-being of children and families is beyond the pale and must not go on,” said Henrietta Ford, executive director of the UN’s children agency.
More than 140,000 Syrians have been displaced in the past three days alone by violence in the country’s northwest, bringing the total of those uprooted in a Syrian government offensive against the last opposition stronghold to over 800,000, the United Nations said Thursday.
The UN said at least 60 per cent of the more than 800,000 displaced since Dec. 1 are children. The humanitarian crisis in the already overcrowded opposition-held enclave is compounded by freezing weather and a lack of supplies.
The government offensive, backed by Russia, has intensified and expanded to include southern and eastern Idlib province as well as southern and western Aleppo, an area home to an estimated four million people. Most have already been displaced from other parts of Syria because of the ongoing conflict.
The humanitarian situation for people in northwest Syria is “at the most critical points,” the UN said, as the massive scale of human displacement over such a short period of time has increased needs exponentially.
David Swanson, UN regional spokesperson for the crisis in Syria, said more resources, including funding, are immediately needed to save lives and alleviate suffering. He predicted the 800,000 figure will rise in the coming days as the government offensive continues.
“This level of displacement couldn’t come at a worse time as more and more people are squeezed into an increasingly smaller area of land with little more than the clothes on their back,” he said, describing people fleeing in the middle of the night to avoid detection in temperatures below zero.
“The crisis is deepening by the minute, but the international community remains indifferent,” Swanson said.
Government forces, with Russian support, have focused their offensive on areas along a strategic highway that runs through opposition territory and connects the country’s south to the north. The M5 highway, now secured by Syrian troops, had been out of government control since 2012 and accessing it was part of a now failed 2018 ceasefire agreement. Calls for a ceasefire have failed to stop the violence.
On Thursday, government troops continued to advance through the Aleppo countryside to secure their hold on the highway. Most of the villages and towns that sit alongside the highway are now empty, while hundreds of thousands are squeezing into displacement camps, open fields and tents to move away from the front lines.
The UN said 550,000 of the displaced are living in Idlib towns and villages already packed with displaced people. Another 250,000 have moved to northern Aleppo in areas administered by Turkey and allied Syrian groups.
Turkey, a sponsor of the ceasefire and a backer of the opposition, has sent thousands of troops into the area to stall the advances, sparking rare direct confrontations with Syrian troops.
The Syrian war, now in its ninth year, has pulled in international players including the U.S., Russia and Turkey. Russia has supported the Syrian government troops while the U.S. has led an international coalition fighting ISIS militants.
Also on Thursday, the U.S. military acknowledged its troops fired on and killed a Syrian combatant when government supporters attacked an American convoy in northeastern Syria a day earlier.
The clash Wednesday was a rare direct confrontation between a Syrian pro-government group and U.S. troops deployed in the increasingly crowded terrain near the border with Iraq and Turkey.
A convoy of U.S. armoured vehicles drove into a government-controlled area and was attacked by pro-government supporters, including armed men who fired at the soldiers and pelted them with stones and Molotov cocktails.
Col. Myles Caggins, spokesperson for the U.S.-led coalition, said the person killed was a combatant. He said the U.S. soldiers had come under fire and responded in self-defence. Syrian government media maintained the person killed was a civilian.
The U.S. maintains hundreds of troops in the area. In recent weeks, and following a Turkish invasion of villages and towns along its borders, the area has been swarming with Russian, Syrian government and Turkish troops. They are deployed in part to maintain the peace but also in the latest tug over territorial control in Syria’s conflict.
Caggins said the patrol was planned, and the route passed through a pro-government area. The convoy of U.S. armoured vehicles passed through a Syrian military checkpoint, but government militia were also present.
The U.S. maintains lines of communication with Russia, Damascus’s ally, to avoid such confrontations.
Videos showed government supporters attacking the vehicles and two men firing small arms at the convoy, which was flying the U.S. flag. Some residents pelted the convoy with stones, while another dumped a bucket full of dirt on the back of one vehicle.
U.S. soldiers were seen standing in the middle of the melee, trying to disperse the crowd. One U.S. vehicle was stuck in the dirt, apparently having veered into a ditch, while another had a flat tire.
“Despite U.S. troops’ repeated de-escalation efforts, local militia members attacked U.S. troops with small arms weapons from multiple firing positions,” Caggins said. “Coalition forces always have the right to self-defence and fired back at armed aggressors, killing one adult male combatant.”
Syrian government forces pressed ahead Monday with a new military assault on the country’s last rebel stronghold that began last week, an offensive that has set off a mass exodus of civilians fleeing to safer areas near the Turkish border.
Under the cover of airstrikes and heavy shelling, Syrian troops have been pushing into the northwestern province of Idlib toward a major rebel-held town, Maaret al-Numan. The town sits on a key highway linking the capital Damascus with the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest.
The immediate goal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces appeared to be reopening the highway, which has been closed by the rebels since 2012.
Idlib province is dominated by al-Qaeda-linked militants. It’s also home to three million civilians, and the United Nations has warned of the growing risk of a humanitarian catastrophe along the Turkish border. The United Nations says over half of the civilians in Idlib have been internally displaced following continuing reports of airstrikes in the area.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is alarmed by the escalation of fighting and is calling for an immediate halt to hostilities, his spokesperson said late Monday.
The spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, said earlier that a UN-negotiated, six-hour humanitarian pause had enabled safe passage for more than 2,500 people to flee.
Over the past three days, some 39 communities were reportedly been affected by shelling in northern Hama, southern Idlib and western Aleppo governorates, while 47 communities were reportedly hit by airstrikes, Dujarric said.
“The UN urges all parties to ensure the protection of civilians, and to allow sustained and unhindered access by all humanitarian parties to provide life-saving assistance to all in need,” the UN spokesperson said.
Residents of villages and towns in southern parts of Idlib province have been fleeing with their belongings in trucks, cars and on motorcycles.
The government’s ground offensive resumed last week after the collapse of a ceasefire, which had been in place since the end of August.
‘The destruction is massive’
Before this latest bout of violence, the UN reported that some 60,000 Idlib residents had already been displaced since the government’s bombing campaign began late last month.
The pro-government Al-Watan newspaper said Syrian troops were a few kilometres away from Maaret al-Numan, adding that the town “might surrender to the army without fighting.”
The opposition’s Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, said Maaret al-Numan and the nearby town of Sarqeb were almost empty after tens of thousands of civilians left to escape heavy aerial and ground bombardment.
“As you can see the destruction is massive. Residents were forced to flee this area,” said a member of the White Helmets in a video as he walked through Maaret al-Numan. “They had to choose between death or fleeing to the unknown further north.”
Syrian troops have also nearly surrounded a Turkish observation post near the village of Surman in Idlib province, according to Al-Watan and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor.
Turkey is a strong backer of some rebel fighters, and has 12 observation posts in northwestern Syria as part of an agreement. The deal was brokered last year along with Russia, one of Assad’s main backers.
The Observatory, which has a network of activists in Syria, said government troops have captured approximately 35 villages and hamlets near Maaret al-Numan in the past few days.
Also Monday, a vehicle rigged with explosives blew up in a market in a northern Syrian town controlled by Turkey-backed opposition fighters, killing five people and wounding others, state media and opposition activists said.
State news agency SANA said the blast occurred in the village of Suluk near the Turkish border, putting the death toll at five people and reporting that several more were injured.
A similar death toll was also given by the Turkey-based Syrian National Coalition and the Observatory, which also said 20 people were wounded.
Suluk is near the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad in Raqqa province. Turkish troops and Turkey-backed fighters captured Tal Abyad and Suluk from Kurdish-led fighters in October. Turkey’s invasion of northeastern Syria pushed back Syrian Kurdish fighters from some border areas.
Explosions in north Syria areas controlled by Turkey-backed opposition fighters killed scores of people in recent weeks.
Turkey blames Syrian Kurdish fighters for these attacks, a claim that the Kurds deny.
Separately, Russia’s military said insurgents used drones to attack its Hmeimeem air base on Syria’s Mediterranean coast a day earlier. The two drones were shot down and caused no damage or injuries, said Maj.-Gen. Yuri Borenkov of the Russian Centre for Reconciliation of the Opposing Sides in Syria.
Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters admitted his use of racial slurs and apologized to GM Brad Treliving in a statement issued Wednesday night.
“Please accept this as a sincere apology to you, and the entire Calgary Flames organization, for offensive language I used in a professional setting a decade ago,” Peters wrote
“I know that my comments have been the source of both anger and disappointment, and I understand why. Although it was an isolated and immediately regrettable incident, I take responsibility for what I said.”
Peters’ status as the Flames coach has been placed into question while the NHL and the team investigate allegations he directed racist slurs at Nigerian-born player Akim Aliu in the minors 10 years ago. He was not behind the bench when the Flames faced the Buffalo Sabres in a road game on Wednesday.
His statement makes no mention of Aliu, but Peters said the comment was “made in a moment of frustration and does not reflect my personal values.”
“After the incident, I was rightfully challenged about my use of language, and I immediately returned to the dressing room to apologize to the team,” he said in the statement. “I have regretted the incident since it happened, and I now also apologize to anyone negatively affected by my words.”
CBC Sports has reached out to Aliu for comment on Peters’ statement.
WATCH | Timeline of Bill Peters saga:
Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters has come under fire after former player Akim Aliu accused the coach of using racial slurs towards him years ago. 2:11
Aliu played under Peters during the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons. He was demoted to the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL during the 2009-10 season. Aliu, who was born in Africa but raised in Ukraine and Canada, later played seven NHL games over two seasons with Calgary.
Aliu alleged Peters “dropped the N bomb several times towards me in the dressing room in my rookie year because he didn’t like my choice of music.” It happened during the 2009-10 season while the two were with the Chicago Blackhawks minor-league affiliate in Rockford, Ill.
“I am aware that there is no excuse for language that is offensive. I meant no disrespect in what I said, and it was not directed at anyone in particular. But, that doesn’t matter; it was hurtful and demeaning. I am truly sorry.
WATCH | Current Hurricanes coach confirms incidents involving Peters:
Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour confirms allegations by former player Michal Jordan that Bill Peters kicked Jordan and punched another player during a game. 1:35
“I accept the reality of my actions. I do believe that we must strive to act with integrity, and to take accountability for what we say and do. This letter is intended to do exactly that; I hope it is accepted as intended.
“I appreciate the thorough review of this situation being undertaken by the Flames. It’s the right thing to do, and I support it fully,” the statement concludes.
Treliving met with the media following the Calgary’s 3-2 win over the Sabres and said the investigation continues and the team hopes to provide and update on Thursday.
Treliving meeting with media post-game, RE: Peters’ letter. There is no change, as the investigation continues: <a href=”https://t.co/15oMEVN4gt”>pic.twitter.com/15oMEVN4gt</a>
Yabsley says the network has spoken to Cherry about the severity of his comments.
The 85-year-old Hockey Night in Canada personality made the remarks during his weekly Coach’s Corner segment, singled out new immigrants in Toronto and Mississauga, Ont., where he lives, for not honouring Canada’s veterans and dead soldiers.
WATCH | Don Cherry in hot water over comments on Coach’s Corner:
Don Cherry sparked online backlash on Saturday night for his comments about immigrants not wanting to wear poppies ahead of Remembrance Day. 0:50
On Saturday night, Cherry’s comments prompted a swift online backlash, with many calling for his firing.
Cherry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Attention <a href=”https://twitter.com/CoachsCornerDC?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@CoachsCornerDC</a>, Don Cherry. (Photo:<a href=”https://twitter.com/HkyNightPunjabi?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@HkyNightPunjabi</a>) <a href=”https://t.co/y9fTDPjtIQ”>pic.twitter.com/y9fTDPjtIQ</a>
Hockey Night in Canada used to be a long-time CBC Saturday night staple. The show and its games moved to Sportsnet when Rogers landed a 12-year, $ 5.2 billion US national broadcast rights deal with the NHL that began in 2014.
The show is still broadcast on CBC in a sub-licencing deal with Rogers Media, which owns Sportsnet. But the show is run by Sportsnet and filmed in its studio in the CBC building in Toronto.
‘Cherry’s remarks were ignorant and prejudiced’
“As Rogers Media is the national rights holder for NHL Hockey in Canada, CBC has no purview over any editorial [choice of commentators or what they say] with respect to Hockey Night in Canada,” CBC spokesman Chuck Thompson said in an email.
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie called Cherry’s comments “despicable.”
For <a href=”https://twitter.com/CoachsCornerDC?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@CoachsCornerDC</a> to say that “you people” do not respect 🇨🇦 or our veterans is despicable. We’re proud of diverse cultural heritage and we‘ll always stand up for it. New immigrants enrich our country for the better. We’re all Canadians and wear our poppies proudly.
Former Liberal MP and previous Ontario Premier Bob Rae also weighed in.
“Cherry’s remarks were ignorant and prejudiced, and at this point in our history can’t go without comment.”
Cherry made his comment prior to running his annual Remembrance Day video montage, where he is seen walking through a military cemetery in France visiting the graves of Canadian soldiers who went to battle in the First World War.
Poppies are sold every year starting on the last Friday in October until Remembrance Day on Nov. 11 by The Royal Canadian Legion to raise money in support of veterans and their families.
Among the online responses was one from Paula Simons, an independent senator from Alberta.
She wrote that it has not been her experience that new immigrants don’t wear poppies or appreciate the tragedies of war, and further condemned the sentiment behind Cherry’s remarks.
“We don’t honour the sacrifice of those who died in battle by sowing division or distrust,” Simons wrote.
Rumours circulated about the possibility of Cherry being cut from Coach’s Corner earlier this year after a Toronto Sun columnist wrote that his return to the show had not been confirmed by the summer.
Cherry said at the time that he was not retiring from the decades-old show yet.
The divided UN Security Council failed to agree on Turkey’s offensive in northeast Syria on Thursday, with Europeans demanding a halt to military action and Syrian ally Russia calling for “restraint” and “direct dialogue” between the two countries.
The five European council members who called the closed meeting would have liked its 15 members to agree on a statement on the Turkish offensive, launched after U.S. President Donald Trump suddenly withdrew U.S. forces from the volatile northeast.
The United States proposed a statement that expressed “deep concern,” called for protection of civilians, and asked Turkey to go through diplomatic channels rather than take military action, council diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because consultations were private.
But Russia’s UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, told reporters afterward that any Security Council statement needs to take into account other aspects of the Syrian crisis, not just the Turkish operation, and should demand the immediate termination of “the illegal military presence” in the country.
Europeans denounce civilian suffering
So the Europeans issued their own statement after the meeting, urging Turkey “to cease the unilateral military action.” They said the offensive threatens progress against the extremist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) by a global coalition, undermines stability of the region and exacerbates “civilian suffering.”
Turkey says it is targeting Kurdish fighters, who fought alongside U.S. forces in routing ISIS from northern Syria. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government considers the Kurds “terrorists” who are allied with Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft said Trump “has made abundantly clear” that the United States “has not in any way” endorsed Turkey’s decision to mount a military incursion in northeast Syria.
As <a href=”https://twitter.com/POTUS?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@POTUS</a> has made abundantly clear, the U.S. has not endorsed <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Turkey?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Turkey</a>’s decision to mount a military incursion in <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Syria?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Syria</a>. Turkey is now responsible, & failure to play by the rules, protect vulnerable populations & guarantee that ISIS does not reconstitute will have consequences. <a href=”https://t.co/nT2ooSoI7F”>pic.twitter.com/nT2ooSoI7F</a>
She told reporters the president has emphasized to Turkey’s government that it bears “full responsibility” for protecting Kurds and religious minorities, and for ensuring that ISIS fighters remain in prison and the extremist group doesn’t reconstitute itself.
Craft stressed that Turkey’s “failure to do so will have consequences.” She didn’t elaborate.
The council meeting again displayed the inability of the UN’s most powerful body to deal with the more-than-eight-year Syrian conflict, which has claimed over 400,000 lives.
The statement by the European council members — United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium and Poland — who were joined by Estonia which will join the council in January, was very similar to the European Union’s statement issued Wednesday.
‘Demographic change would be unacceptable’
The European council members’ statement also urged protection of civilians and said “it is unlikely that a so-called ‘safe zone’ in northeast Syria, as envisioned by Turkey, would satisfy international criteria for refugee return.” And it stressed that “any attempt at demographic change would be unacceptable.”
Russia’s Nebenzia called the Turkish operation “the result of demographic engineering some of the coalition partners did in the northeast of Syria.
“We warned them, [for a] long time, not to experiment with that, and not to try to count Arab tribes that lived initially in that area to be Kurdish,” he said. “And now in fact the Kurdish [are] reaping the fruit of their demographic policies in that part of Syria.”
Turkey is already declaring success in its military assault as it tries to flush out Kurdish militias that Ankara sees as a security threat.
Turkey’s defence ministry says 228 militants have been killed so far in the offensive. The Kurds said they were resisting the assault. At least 23 fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and six fighters with a Turkish-backed Syrian rebel group have been killed, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war.
The SDF said Turkish airstrikes and shelling have killed nine civilians.
About 64,000 people have fled border towns in northeast Syria since artillery began to rain down in the region Wednesday, according to the International Rescue Committee. The towns of Ras al-Ayn and Darbasiya have become largely deserted.
Watch as smoke rises from the Syrian border towns of Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn:
A video shows plumes of smoke hovering above the Syrian border towns of Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ain on Thursday as Turkish forces push deeper into its northern border. 0:37
Turkish forces began a military operation in northeast Syria on Wednesday, shortly after U.S. troops began vacating the region. The newest front in the Middle East could have ripple effects on everything from the strength of ISIS to the impeachment proceedings against U.S. President Donald Trump.
Who are the key players in the offensive and what’s at stake? CBC News explains the offensive:
Why is Turkey attacking Syria?
Turkey isn’t attacking Syria’s central government, but instead wants to eliminate what it sees as a terrorist threat on its border: Kurdish fighters in Syria.
The Kurds are an ethnic minority spread across several countries in the region, and Turkey says the Kurdish militia in northeastern Syria, known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, is allied with outlawed Kurdish rebels fighting inside Turkey.
Turkey also says it plans to create a “safe zone” to resettle millions of Syrian refugees currently living on Turkish soil who have fled during Syria’s yearslong civil war. This would then serve as a buffer against the YPG.
Who are the Kurds?
The Kurdish ethnic minority, mainly Sunni Muslims, speaks a language related to Farsi and lives mostly in a mountainous region straddling the borders of Armenia, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. The latter four countries all have large Kurdish minorities seeking varying degrees of autonomy from central governments after decades of repression.
During the ongoing Syrian civil war, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad focused on crushing mainly Sunni Arab rebels, turning a blind eye as Kurdish fighters carved out self-rule across the north and east. Kurdish forces control about a quarter of the country’s territory — the biggest chunk of Syria not in state hands — with its own forces and bureaucracy.
Syrian Kurdish leaders say they don’t want to separate but want regional autonomy.
Why attack now?
Because Trump pulled his country’s soldiers — just a few dozen of them — from the area.
Turkey’s offensive — named Operation Peace Spring — came after Trump agreed to withdraw American troops, paving the way for an assault on Kurdish forces that have long been allied with the United States in the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
It could, according to experts. The U.S. had hoped to train the Syrian Democratic Forces (which is spearheaded by YPG) and other groups to create a stabilization force of 50,000 to 60,000 fighters to help prevent a resurgence of ISIS.
As of last month, the U.S. military estimated it was about halfway toward that goal.
One official told Reuters that the SDF was still guarding prisons holding some 11,000 captured Islamic State fighters, but noted that a small number of SDF forces had relocated ahead of the Turkish offensive.
How do those not directly involved feel about it?
Generally, not good.
First, Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria drew widespread condemnation internationally and across party lines within the U.S. because it is widely seen as abandonment of the Kurdish fighters who have been the U.S. Armed Forces’ sole allies in Syria.
Turkey’s quick attacks drew sharp criticism from many quarters, including Germany, the European Union and Canada.
“Canada firmly condemns Turkey’s military incursion into Syria today,” Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Twitter.
Canada firmly condemns Turkey’s military incursion into Syria today.
There has also been no public support from Turkey’s Western allies for its plan to resettle two million Syrians in northeast Syria.
Iran and Russia are both key allies of the Assad government and have troops on the ground in Syria. While they may publicly oppose a Turkish incursion, they probably don’t mind an operation that diminishes the Kurdish forces.
Beyond the loss of life, what are the risks?
Broadly, there are fears the incursion could inflame further conflicts in Syria and the region, potentially allowing for a revival of ISIS, as well as another surge of Syrian refugees.
The United States said it was pulling troops from northeast Syria, in a major shift which clears the way for a Turkish military offensive against Kurdish-led forces and hands Turkey responsibility for thousands of Islamic State captives.
A U.S. official said American troops had withdrawn from two observation posts on the border, at Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ain, and had told the commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces that the United States would not defend the SDF from an imminent Turkish offensive.
“Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria,” the White House said after President Donald Trump spoke to Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday.
“The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial “Caliphate,” will no longer be in the immediate area,” it added in a statement.
Turkey has long argued for the establishment of a roughly 30-kilometre “safe zone” along the border, under Turkish control, driving back the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia — which is the dominant force in the SDF alliance and which Ankara considers a terrorist organization and a threat to its national security.
The United States helped the YPG defeat Islamic State militants in Syria, and had been seeking a joint “security mechanism” with Turkey along the border to meet Turkey’s security needs without threatening the SDF.
The SDF accused Washington on Monday of reneging on an ally which spearheaded the fight against Islamic State in Syria, and warned that it would have a “great negative” impact on the war against the jihadists.
“The American forces did not fulfil their commitments and withdrew their forces from the border areas with Turkey, and Turkey is now preparing for an invasion operation of northern and eastern Syria,” it said in a statement.
SDF official Mustafa Bali said U.S. forces were “leaving leaving the areas to turn into a war zone.”
Islamic State captives
The White House statement appeared to hand over to Turkey responsibility for captured Islamic State jihadists who are currently held in SDF facilities to the south of Turkey’s initially proposed safe zone.
“Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area captured over the past two years,” it said.
The statement also made pointed reference to Washington’s European allies, saying many of the captured ISIS fighters came from those countries, which had resisted U.S. calls to take them back.
“The United States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the United States taxpayer,” the White House said.
In the first Turkish comment following the statement, Erdogan’s spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said Turkey’s “safe zone” plan was within the framework of Syria’s territorial integrity.
“The safe zone has two aims: to secure our borders by clearing away terrorist elements and to achieve the return of refugees in a safe way,” Kalin wrote on Twitter.
“Turkey is powerful and determined,” he added.
Turkey says it wants to settle up to two million Syrian refugees in the zone. It currently hosts 3.6 million Syrians sheltering from the more than eight-year-old conflict in their homeland.
After the Erdogan-Trump phone call, the Turkish presidency said the two leaders had agreed to meet in Washington next month.
It said that during the call Erdogan had expressed his frustration with the failure of U.S. military and security officials to implement the agreement between the two countries.
The NATO allies agreed in August to establish a zone in northeast Syria along the border with Turkey.
Turkey says the United States moved too slowly to set up the zone. It has repeatedly warned of launching an offensive on its own into northeast Syria.
Ties between the allies have also been pressured over Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 defence missiles and the trial of local U.S. consulate employees in Turkey.