The United Nations Secretary-General has expressed grave concern over the military developments in northeast Syria, which have already reportedly resulted in many civilian casualties and the displacement of at least 160 000 civilians.

Reports of heaving fighting continue in the region as Turkey continues its military operation against Kurdish fighters, who were formerly allied to United States troops until President Donald Trump ordered their surprise withdrawal.

In a statement, the Secretary General continues to urge for maximum restraint and stresses that any military operation must fully respect international law, including the UN Charter and international humanitarian law.

His spokesperson Stephane Dujarric, “The Secretary-General calls for immediate de-escalation and urges all parties to resolve their concerns through peaceful means. The Secretary-General emphasizes that civilians not taking part in hostilities must be protected at all times. Likewise, civilian infrastructure must be protected in accordance with international humanitarian law.”

Reports from the region suggest that Syrian forces under President Bashar al Assad are now moving into the Kurdish territories in the northeast of the country after a deal brokered by Russia afforded the Kurds protection against the Turkish offensive in exchange for handing over key cities to Damascus. If the reports are true, the US withdrawal of its troops has provided an opportunity for a realignment of alliances in the country with the Kurds now partnering with Syria and Russia and thereby opening up a new chapter in the eight-year war. Meaning a critical US alliance partner against ISIS in the region will now fight alongside Syria’s army that is opposed to the United States.

Dujarric adds,”He recognizes in particular the vulnerabilities of internally displaced persons. He further stresses that sustained, unimpeded and safe humanitarian access to civilians in need must be guaranteed, including through the cross-border modality, in order to allow the United Nations and its humanitarian partners to continue to carry out its critical work in northern Syria. He also notes with serious concern that the current military operations could lead to the unintended release of individuals associated with ISIL, with all the consequences this could entail.”

In an exchange with the Spokesperson SABC News correspondent Sherwin Bryce-Pease raised specific points in the Charter, particular Article 2 that says the organisation is based on the principle of sovereign equality of all its members, that international disputes be settled by peaceful means and that all members shall refrain from threat or use of force against the territorial integrity of another state.

Sherwin: Why then can the UNSG not then call on Turkey to stop its actions.

Stephane: I appreciate the reading of the Charter but again I would refer you to what I’ve said, that we have in light of this current military operation, it bears reminding that any military operation going on needs to respect the charter and international humanitarian law.

Sherwin: But surely military operation in itself a violation of the Charter

Stephane: I will leave that analysis to you.

Earlier the European Union Council condemned Turkey’s military action.

Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, “NATO means article 5: mutual assistance in case of an attack (against one of the military alliance’s members). Let’s imagine this. Starting from this morning, there is an alliance between (Syrian President Bashar al-) Assad’s troops and the Kurds, while Turkey goes against the official Syrian president. So, if Syria or Syria’s allies fight back, attack Turkey, then we are in an extremely, extremely complicated situation. For these reasons, without mentioning sanctions, I believe that Europe must say ‘Stop. This can not continue’.”

The United States has now also threatened to impose new economic sanctions on Ankara in response to its military offensive in Syria.