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UN Security Council warns of 'risk of dispersion' of Syria jihadists

The Council's 15 members including Russia, a key player in the conflict, declared themselves 'very concerned (about) a further deterioration of the humanitarian situation' in northeastern Syria.

FILE: A general view of the UN Security Council as it meets on 9 January 2018. Picture: United Nations

UNITED NATIONS, United States - The UN Security Council warned in a unanimously adopted statement Wednesday of a risk of "dispersion" of jihadist prisoners in Syria, but stopped short of calling for a halt to Turkey's offensive against Kurdish forces there.

"Members of the Security Council expressed deep concerns over the risks of dispersion of terrorists from UN-designated groups, including ISIL," the statement said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

The Council's 15 members including Russia, a key player in the conflict, declared themselves "very concerned (about) a further deterioration of the humanitarian situation" in northeastern Syria.

All were in agreement on the danger of IS regrouping, summed up a Western ambassador, who requested anonymity.

The short text proposed by France was adopted following a brief meeting held at the request of the council's European members.

It does not condemn the Turkish offensive - which the United States is seen as having green-lighted by withdrawing troops from northeastern Syria - nor does it call for the operation to stop.

In a separate joint statement, the European members of the Council - Belgium, Britain, France, Germany and Poland - stressed the necessity of securing camps where jihadist fighters are being held.

"The secure detention of terrorist fighters is imperative in order to prevent them from joining the ranks of terrorist groups," they said.

Addressing reporters, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, reiterated Washington's demand for a halt to Ankara's offensive - which Vice President Mike Pence will press when he travels to Turkey later on Wednesday.

"Turkey's military offensive into northeast Syria is undermining the campaign to defeat ISIS, endangering innocent civilians, and threatening peace, security, and stability in the region," she said.

"The United States calls on Turkey to halt its offensive and to declare a ceasefire immediately."

At a Council meeting late last week, Russia and China blocked the adoption of two separate texts calling for a halt to the offensive - one sponsored by European members, and the other by the United States.

Europeans and Americans on the Security Council have since been coordinating their efforts more closely, said a Western diplomat under cover of anonymity.

President Donald Trump is accused of giving Turkey a green light to launch operations against Kurdish militants in northeastern Syria, by withdrawing US troops from the area. Trump rejects the charge.

Almost a week of deadly bombardment and fighting there has killed dozens of civilians, mostly on the Kurdish side, and prompted at least 160,000 to flee their homes.

The Turkish invasion has also forced the withdrawal of several non-governmental organizations providing assistance to victims of the Syrian conflict, which has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since 2011.