The Latest: UN official voices concern about Syria safe zone

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Posted: Jul 28, 2015 3:51 PM
The Latest: UN official voices concern about Syria safe zone

BRUSSELS (AP) — The Latest from NATO meeting on Islamic State group and related developments (all times local):

9:50 p.m.

The U.N. humanitarian chief, Stephen O'Brien, has warned against calling a proposed buffer along the Turkey-Syrian border a "safe zone," saying it could risk attracting vulnerable people to an area without "sufficient protection."

Turkish and U.S. officials are discussing the creation of a safe zone near Turkey's border, which would be cleared of Islamic State group presence.

O'Brien did not yet have details on just where the zone would be or how it would affect the delivery of humanitarian aid into Syria.

He spoke to reporters Tuesday after briefing the Security Council. He has proposed a visit to parts of Syria next month, but his office says that all depends on the Syrian government.

The U.N. special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, will brief the council on Wednesday.

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8:25 p.m.

Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi says his council of ministers views Turkish airstrikes in his country as "a dangerous escalation and a violation of Iraq's sovereignty."

In a three-part message posted on his official Twitter account Tuesday, al-Abadi said that the council is committed "not to allow any attack on Turkey from Iraqi territory and called on Turkey to respect good relations."

Turkey launched a wave of airstrikes in Iraq last week targeting militants with the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, in the country's northwest.

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6:30 p.m.

A U.N. panel says the threat of foreign jihadi fighters traveling to countries such as Iraq and Syria is a fluid and rapidly-changing problem and the response of governments must be stepped up.

Jean Paul Laborde, executive director of the Security Council's Counter-Terrorism Committee, told reporters Tuesday the threat posed by such foreign fighters is global and the world's response must involve all levels of society.

Laborde spoke after ministers and representatives from some 70 countries met in Madrid to discuss ways of stemming the flow of foreign fighters and countering their recruitment.

The committee estimates there are some 25,000 foreign fighters from more than half the countries in the world involved with jihadi extremists such as the Islamic State group.

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5:25 p.m.

Turkey's military says it used fighter jets to target Kurdish rebels after its soldiers were attacked near the country's border with Iraq.

In a statement, the military said Kurdish militants fired on Turkish soldiers with heavy weaponry prompting the response in Sirnak province.

The exchange of fire appears to be further escalation between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. The spike in violence has prompted concerns that a promising peace process is falling beyond repair.

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4:40 p.m.

The spokesman of one of the main factions fighting the Islamic State group and Syrian government forces says a U.S.-Turkish agreement to establish a zone free of extremists in northern Syria is in their interest.

Ahmad Qara Ali of the ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham says his group, Turkey and its allies have a joint enemy in IS and "weakening, attacking and targeting" it would help change the situation on the ground.

Ahrar al-Sham and its allies have been fighting IS in Syria since January 2014. Most recently, the fighting was concentrated in Aleppo province where the free zone is expected to be set up.

Qara Ali said via Skype Tuesday he hopes that airstrikes against IS will be more serious and can help in defeating the extremists.

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4:30 p.m.

Saudi Arabia's King Salman has affirmed his country's support for Turkey's military actions against the Islamic State group and its right to defend itself against terror acts.

The Saudi Press Agency reported that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a phone call on Tuesday to Salman, who is currently on holiday in France.

Salman reportedly told Erdogan that recent terrorist acts in Turkey confirm that the IS group and other terror organizations pose a threat to peace and security in the region and must be eliminated.

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4:05 p.m.

A NATO official says that alliance members have used the closed-door meeting in Brussels to call on Turkey not to use excessive force.

Although public statements from the NATO meeting stressed unity, the official said members also urged Turkey to continue peace efforts with representatives of the Kurdish minority.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak on the record.

Ambassadors from NATO's 28 member states met in Brussels for an emergency session Tuesday to gauge the threat the Islamic State extremist group poses to Turkey, and the actions Turkish authorities are taking in response.

The extraordinary meeting Tuesday at NATO headquarters is only the fifth such emergency meeting in the 66-year-history of the alliance.

-- John-Thor Dahlburg, Brussels.

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3:35 p.m.

A senior Turkish ruling party official says Turkey's peace process with the Kurds is not over but has been placed on hold.

Besir Atalay, a spokesman for the ruling Justice and Development party, says the peace negotiations can restart when Kurdish rebel fighters withdraw from Turkish territory and lay down arms.

Turkey launched peace talks with the Kurdish rebels' imprisoned leader in 2012 with the aim of ending the 30-year conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people. The rebels declared a cease-fire in 2013 that had largely held until last week. The rebels claimed responsibility for killing two policemen and Turkish jets pounded rebel positions in northern Iraq.

The Kurds have held the government responsible for an Islamic State suicide attack earlier this month saying it had not done enough to stop the group.

Atalay said: "It can resume from where it stopped, but until we reach that point, there will be a pause."

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3:20 p.m.

A spokesman for the main Syrian Kurdish force fighting the Islamic State group says he does not view a U.S.-Turkish agreement to establish a safe zone in northern Syria as a threat.

Redur Khalil of the People's Protection Units, or YPG, says it is still not clear how Turkey will fight IS and adds Turkey has no interest in sending ground troops to Syria.

The U.S.-backed YPG controls most of the 910-kilometer (565-mile) border with Turkey. It has warned Ankara against military intervention in northern Syria.

Khalil however struck a diplomatic tone Tuesday saying the Turkish plans were not a threat.

Many Kurds are concerned Turkey is using the war against IS as a pretext to limit advances by the YPG and to steer Washington away from it.

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2:40 p.m.

Turkey's military says a soldier who was seriously wounded in an armed attack near Turkey's border with Iraq has died.

A military statement said the infantry sergeant died in a hospital Tuesday after being shot in the head by Kurdish militant in the town of Semdinli.

The attack comes amid increased violence between Turkey and Kurdish rebels, including Turkish airstrikes against the militants' bases in neighboring Iraq.

A day earlier, a military police major was killed in an ambush in the southeastern province of Mus. Ten people were detained for questioning.

Earlier, an explosion at a natural gas pipeline between Iran and Turkey — blamed on Kurdish rebels — caused a large fire and shut down the flow of gas.

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1:50 p.m.

The leader of Syria's main political opposition group is urging NATO partners meeting in Brussels to support the establishment of a "safe zone" in northern Syria.

Khaled Khoja, who heads the Syrian National Coalition, says that would ensure civilians are protected from the Islamic State group and President Bashar Assad's indiscriminate aerial bombardment.

NATO ambassadors are gathered Tuesday for an emergency session requested by Turkey to gauge the threat IS poses to Turkey and the actions Turkish authorities are taking in response.

Turkish and U.S. officials are discussing the creation of a safe zone near Turkey's border, which would be cleared of IS group presence and turned into a secure area for Syrian refugees to return.

Khoja says a safe zone would be a "significant first step."

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12:40 p.m.

Turkey's NATO partners say they stand "in strong solidarity" with the nation, and that the security of the U.S.-led alliance is "indivisible."

Ambassadors from NATO's 28 member states issued a joint statement following a rare emergency meeting at NATO headquarters held to hear Turkey describe the threat it faces from the Islamic State extremist group and the actions it's taking in response.

The NATO ambassadors say they "strongly condemn the terrorist attacks against Turkey, and express our condolences to the Turkish government and the families" of victims killed in recent terrorist actions.

The NATO statement added: "Terrorism poses a direct threat to the security of NATO countries and to international stability and prosperity," ''It is a global threat that knows no border, nationality or religion_a challenge that the international community must fight and tackle together."

NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg is scheduled to speak to the media soon about the meeting's conclusions.

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12:35 p.m.

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency says a soldier has been seriously wounded in an armed attack near Turkey's border with Iraq.

The agency says the soldier was fired on by a man wearing a mask on Tuesday in the mainly-Kurdish town of Semdinli.

The attack comes amid increased violence between Turkey and Kurdish rebels and Turkish airstrikes against the militants' bases in neighboring Iraq.

A day earlier, a military police major was killed in an ambush of his car in the southeastern province of Mus. Ten people were detained for questioning.

Earlier, an explosion at a natural gas pipeline between Iran and Turkey — blamed on Kurdish rebels — caused a large fire and shut down the flow of gas.

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11:20 a.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey is asking NATO to be prepared to help his country as it battles Islamic State militants in Syria and Kurdish rebels in Iraq.

Speaking at a news conference Tuesday before leaving for China, Erdogan also said it was impossible to advance a peace process with the Kurds as attacks on Turkey continue.

Erdogan spoke as NATO convened for a special meeting to discuss threats to Turkey.

Erdogan said Turkish and U.S. officials were discussing the creation of a safe zone near Turkey's border with Syria, which would be cleared of IS group presence and turned into a secure area for Syrian refugees to return.

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11:15 a.m.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has opened a rare emergency meeting at NATO headquarters, requested by Turkey, by expressing condolences to the Turkish people and government for recent deadly attacks there. He said that "terrorism in all its forms" can never be justified.

Tuesday's meeting is only the fifth of its kind since the U.S.-led political and military alliance was founded 66 years ago. The NATO treaty empowers member states to seek emergency consultations if they deem their territorial integrity, political independence or security to be under threat.

In public remarks, Stoltenberg said it was right to hold the meeting since there is instability on Turkey's border and NATO's southeastern doorstep. The meeting of the North Atlantic Council, NATO's principal political decision-making body, then went into closed session.

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11:05 a.m.

The U.N. Security Council's Counter-Terrorism Committee is meeting in Madrid with ministers and representatives from some 70 countries to discuss ways of stemming the flow of foreign fighters to countries such as Iraq and Syria.

The committee says the meeting Tuesday is aimed at discussing strategies and techniques to help member states address the foreign fighter threat.

Speaking after preparatory meetings Monday, committee executive director Jean Paul Laborde said international cooperation was imperative in combating the problem.

The committee estimates there are some 25,000 foreign fighters from more than half the countries in the world involved with listed Al-Qaida affiliates such as Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State armed group.

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10:00 a.m.

NATO ambassadors are gathering for an emergency session to gauge the threat the Islamic State extremist group poses to Turkey, and the actions Turkish authorities are taking in response.

The extraordinary meeting Tuesday at NATO headquarters is only the fifth such emergency meeting in the 66-year-history of the alliance. Turkey requested the session under Article 4 of the treaty, which empowers its 28 member states to seek such consultations when they consider their "territorial integrity, political independence or security" to be in jeopardy.

Turkey's request followed an IS suicide bombing near Turkey's border with Syria that left 32 people dead and an IS attack on Turkish forces, which killed a soldier.