Turkey warns of offensive against Syrian Kurds
Turkey is launching a new military operation against Syrian Kurdish groups east of the Euphrates River, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday.
Ankara will soon launch “more effective operations” against “terror groups”, Mr Erdogan told Turkey’s pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak.
Just days ago he issued a final warning to “those who would endanger Turkey’s borders”.
Earlier on Sunday, Turkey fired artillery shells at Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) east of the Euphrates, in the Kobane region of northern Syria.
Although the YPG is backed by the United States, Ankara considers it a terrorist group and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has led an insurgency in Turkey for more than three decades.
Turkey also fought YPG forces in the Afrin region of northern Syria. The YPG took control of large areas of northeast Syria in 2012 as government forces pulled out to fight rebels in the west.
Yesterday, Turkey responded to Syrian government accusations it was not meeting its obligations to create a demilitarised zone around Idlib, the last rebel-held province.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said there were no issues obstructing implementation.
“Everything is going as planned,” he said in Istanbul.
The Kremlin said Turkey was doing its best to fulfil its obligations under the deal. “We don’t see a threat so far. Unfortunately, not everything is going as it was planned,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said yesterday.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al Muallem said on Monday that Ankara was unwilling to implement the agreement last month with Russia, President Bashar Al Assad’s most powerful ally.
The Turkish-Russian agreement established a buffer zone of 15 to 20 kilometres deep into rebel territory, which was to be free of heavy weapons and militants by halfway through this month.
But some fighters, including Al Qaeda’s former affiliate in Syria, have yet to withdraw since the deadline.
“The terrorists still exist with their heavy arms in this region and this is an indicator of Turkey’s unwillingness to fulfil its obligations,” Mr Al Muallem said in Damascus.
In eastern Syria, Kurdish special forces massed around an ISIS pocket near the Iraqi border in preparation for a final push against the group.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said yesterday that more than 500 special forces from the YPG and its female affiliate, the YPJ, mobilised around the last ISIS holdout to help the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces launch an assault.
Thousands of SDF fighters, including Arab fighters of the Deir Ezzor Military Council, have also gathered in the area, which stretches from the Hajin pocket to the Iraqi border.
US coalition warplanes resumed air strikes on ISIS positions yesterday and Iraq’s Shiite paramilitary groups say they are on high alert to confront any attempts by ISIS to cross the border into Iraq.
A Palestinian protester uses a slingshot during clashes after protests near the border between Israel and the northern Gaza Strip. One Palestinian was killed and more than 80 injured during the clashes