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MEPs eye sanctions against Ankara and reject Syria 'safe zone'

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FILE PHOTO: Members of the European Parliament take part in a voting session on the appointment of Christine Lagarde  as next president of the ECB
FILE PHOTO: Members of the European Parliament take part in a voting session on the appointment of Christine Lagarde as next president of the ECB -
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MEPs on Wednesday condemned Turkey's military operation in northeast Syria and prepared the way for new EU financial sanctions against Ankara in a plenary session.

The European Parliament has no direct say on the bloc's foreign policy but has the power to curb important EU funding to Turkey.

MEPs will vote on Thursday on a draft resolution urging "appropriate and targeted economic measures against Turkey".

The text, which is still subject to minor changes, calls for the freezing of preferential treatment for Turkish agriculture exports to the EU.

It furthermore "calls on the [European] Council to introduce a series of targeted sanctions and visa bans to be imposed on Turkish officials responsible for human rights abuses during the current military intervention".

As a last-resort sanction, it also urges the suspension of the EU customs union with Ankara, a measure that would hit the €200 billion annual trade between the bloc and Turkey.

The parliament could also block any new EU funding to help Turkey handle the 3 million Syrian refugees on its territory.

In the text, MEPs "firmly reject" Turkey's safe zone ambitions and instead call for a UN Security Council resolution to set up a north Syria security zone under a United Nations mandate.

Cross-party support

The draft resolution received the backing of all political groups in the European Parliament.

"We demand that Turkey immediately withdraw from Syria," German centre-right lawmaker Michael Gahler said, speaking on behalf of the largest political grouping in the EU assembly.

Green MEP Tineke Strik called for "targeted sanctions and visa bans on Turkish government officials," "imposing a full arms embargo, " and "working on suspension of the trade agreements."

Renew MEP Malik Azmani said the EU's response had not been strong enough so far. "We cannot just stand by and see our orders interfere," he said, calling for the bloc to act.

EU nations divided

EU governments have been divided over how to react to the Turkish military offensive.

Earlier this month they failed to agree on an EU-wide arms embargo against Turkey, though some governments committed to halting arms exports to Ankara.

Some EU states argue for freezing funds, others want EU money to continue flowing to Turkey to avoid a repeat of a 2015 refugee crisis.

While Germany supports sending international troops to patrol northern Syria, other EU countries fear this would backfire as you "would do the dirty job for (Tayyip) Erdogan," a European diplomatic source told Reuters.

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