October 20, 2019
ISTANBUL: Scattered fighting flared in northern Syria on Friday (Saturday in Manila) despite a ceasefire deal as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned he would resume a full-scale operation against Kurdish forces if they do not withdraw from a border “safe zone.”
United States President Donald Trump said Erdogan told him there had been “minor sniper and mortar fire” in the region “that was quickly eliminated” and the Turkish leader assured him in a call that “he very much wants the ceasefire, or pause, to work.”
Mustefa Bali, a spokesman for the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), accused Turkey, however, of violating the ceasefire deal reached during a visit to Ankara on Thursday by US Vice President Mike Pence.
“Despite the agreement to halt the fighting, air and artillery attacks continue to target the positions of fighters, civilian settlements and the hospital” in the battleground border town of Ras al-Ain in northeastern Syria, he said.
A war monitor group said 14 civilians were killed by Turkish air strikes and mortar fire by its Syrian proxies.
The deal brokered by Pence was meant to provide a five-day pause for the evacuation of Kurdish fighters from a safe zone Turkey wants to control along its border with Syria. Ankara considers the Kurdish forces to be “terrorists” linked to Kurdish rebels inside Turkey.
“If the promises are kept until Tuesday evening, the safe zone issue will be resolved,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul. “If it fails, the operation… will start the minute 120 hours are over.”
The suspension of hostilities looked designed to help Turkey achieve its main territorial goals without fighting, but its Syrian proxies continued to clash with Kurdish fighters on Friday.
The 14 civilians were killed in Turkish air strikes and mortar fire by allied Syrian fighters in and around the village of Bab al-Kheir, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Britain-based war monitor said eight fighters of the SDF — the de facto army of the embattled Kurdish autonomous region —were killed in the strikes.
Despite reports of continued fighting, Trump said “there is good will on both sides and a really good chance for success.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who accompanied Pence to Ankara, said in an interview with Politico published Friday that he was “confident” the violence would cease and a ceasefire would take hold.
“There’s not perfect command and control,” Pompeo said. “You always want it to happen faster, cleaner in a more straightforward way. But we have some additional reporting that’s not public that suggests that we think the path is still clear to being successful.”
Under the deal, Kurdish forces are required to withdraw from a border strip 32 kilometers deep, clearing the way for the safe zonesought by Turkey.
The Kurdish-led SDF had said they were ready to abide by the ceasefire in border territory between Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad to the west. AFP
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