Turkey accuses Syrian Kurd forces of violating ceasefire

Turkey accuses Syrian Kurd forces of violating ceasefire
Turkish authorities said 14 attacks were launched by Kurdish fighters from the border town of Ras al-Ain, Tal Abyad and Tal Tamr despite a ceasefire.
4 min read
19 October, 2019
Turkey launched the offensive in Syria despite global concern [Getty]

Turkey accused Kurdish forces of violating an agreement to suspend its Syria offensive if they withdraw from a "safe zone" along the border, reports said on Saturday.

"The Turkish armed forces fully abide by the agreement" reached on Thursday with the United States, the defence ministry said in a statement. "Despite this, terrorists... carried out a total of 14 attacks in the last 36 hours."

The ministry said 12 of the attacks came from the border town of Ras al-Ain in northeastern Syria, one from Tal Abyad and another from Tal Tamr region, adding that various light and heavy weaponry including rockets were used.

Turkey had agreed to suspend its Syria offensive for five days but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned on Friday he would resume a full-scale operation against Kurdish forces if they do not withdraw from a border "safe zone."

"If the promises are kept until Tuesday evening, the safe zone issue will be resolved. If it fails, the operation... will start the minute 120 hours are over," Erdogan said. 

But he added the agreement was holding and that had been no issues so far.

The defence ministry said "for the agreement to hold soundly and to keep the calm with exception of self-defence", Turkey was coordinating with the United States. 

On Saturday, calm appeared to be prevailing in Ras al-Ain with no signs of fighting, according to AFP journalists on the Turkish side of the border. 

On Friday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there had been Turkish airstrikes on the village of Bab al-Kheir, east of Ras al-Ain on the border, noting 14 civilians were killed.

Turkey launched the cross-border incursion on 9 October after repeatedly threatening to clear the border area from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia.

Read more: Concerns mount over US nuclear bombs in Turkey amid Syria offensive

The Turkish forces are supporting Syrian rebel fighters under the "Syrian National Army" banner but the proxies have been accused by Amnesty International of committing "war crimes" including summary executions.

Erdogan also condemned the abuses that some Syrian proxies are accused of having committed during the offensive. 

"Whoever commits such an act is no different from (the Islamic State group). We cannot accept such a thing," he said, adding that the army was investigating the claims.

Kurdish authorities in northeastern Syria also accused Turkey of resorting to banned weapons such as napalm and white phosphorus munitions, a charge Erdogan denied.

"There are certainly no chemical weapons in the inventory of our armed forces. This is all slander against our armed forces," he added.

He accused the YPG of freeing nearly 750 IS extremists including 150 Turks but said 195 of them had been caught.

Erdogan said Ankara was not bothered by the Syrian regime's control of the areas cleared from the Kurdish fighters.

Read more: What will be the future of the Syrian Democratic Forces?

"The regime's control is not a source of concern to us. What matters to us is that terror groups leave the safe zone."

‘New beginnings’ 

While US President Donald Trump appeared to initially green light the offensive, he made repeated threats against Turkey, often in tweets, following international outrage.

He then sent Pence and the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with other US officials to Ankara to thrash out a deal, which was announced on Thursday after hours of talks.

Just hours before the US-Turkey talks, a letter seen by many as bizarre appeared in the US media from Trump to Erdogan, in which the US leader urged Erdogan not to be a "fool" and warned his Turkish counterpart that history risked branding him a "devil."

Erdogan said Friday the letter was not in line with "political and diplomatic courtesy... but our mutual love and respect does not allow us to keep it on the agenda".

He also said he hoped the deal would become a "milestone" and "new beginning" in Turkish-US relations fraught by a series of issues including American support for the Kurdish militants in Syria.

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