October 18, 2019
ANKARA: Turkey rebuffed international pressure to curb its deadly offensive against Kurdish forces in Syria on Wednesday as US President Donald Trump dispatched his deputy Mike Pence to Ankara to demand a ceasefire.
But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed that Turkey’s operation — which has been facilitated by the withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria — would continue.
On another front, Kurdish forces struck a desperate deal with Damascus and stepped aside to allow Syrian regime troops and allied Russian soldiers to enter the border town of Kobane on Wednesday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Kobane is a highly symbolic town for Syria’s Kurds, whose forces had in 2015 wrested the town from Islamic State (IS) group control in an epic battle backed by the US-led coalition.
Days after US troops abruptly began withdrawing, clashes continued across the region on Thursday, with Kurdish fighters in the border town of Ras al-Ain burning tyres in a bid to blind Ankara’s warplanes and digging in against a ground offensive by Turkish-backed Syrian rebels.
The Turkish operation, now in its second week, has triggered a flurry of diplomacy among major powers.
Trump sent Pence along with his top diplomat Mike Pompeo to Turkey amid the greatest crisis in relations for decades between the North Atlantic Treaty Organizqation allies, with talks due in Ankara early Thursday.
Facing a barrage of criticism in Washington for abandoning the Kurds, Trump has slapped sanctions on three Turkish ministers and raised tariffs on its steel industry.
Pence’s office said the US would pursue “punishing economic sanctions” unless there was “an immediate ceasefire.”
“Don’t be a fool,” Trump warned Erdogan in an extraordinary letter sent the day Turkey launched its incursion into northeastern Syria — warning history risked branding him a “devil.”
In language shorn of diplomatic niceties Trump began the letter, dated October 9, with an outright threat.
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