Kurds an­nounce deal with Da­m­as­cus to con­front Tur­key

Trump or­ders US troops out of north­ern Syria

The Korea Times - - WORLD -

QAMISHLI, Syria (AFP) — Syria’s Kurds have an­nounced a ground­break­ing deal with Da­m­as­cus on a Syr­ian troop de­ploy­ment near the bor­der with Tur­key, as Ankara presses a deadly cross-bor­der of­fen­sive that has sparked an in­ter­na­tional out­cry.

The an­nounce­ment on Sun­day came as the United States or­dered the with­drawal of al­most its en­tire ground force in Syria.

De­fense Sec­re­tary Mark Esper said the move to with­draw 1,000 U.S. troops came after Wash­ing­ton learned that Tur­key was press­ing fur­ther into Syria than ex­pected.

“We have Amer­i­can forces likely caught be­tween two op­pos­ing ad­vanc­ing armies and it’s a very un­ten­able sit­u­a­tion,” Esper told CBS’s “Face the Na­tion.”

“So I spoke with the pres­i­dent last night after dis­cus­sions with the rest of the na­tional se­cu­rity team and he di­rected that we be­gin a de­lib­er­ate with­drawal of forces from north­ern Syria.”

Esper said he was un­able to pro­vide a time­line be­cause of the rapidly chang­ing sit­u­a­tion on the ground, but added that the with­drawal would be car­ried out in a “very safe, de­lib­er­ate man­ner.”

Tur­key’s re­lent­less as­sault, which has seen air strikes, shelling and a ground in­cur­sion manned mainly by Syr­ian proxy fight­ers, has killed scores of civil­ians and fight­ers since its launch on Wed­nes­day.

The Kurds feel they have been be­trayed by the United States, their once for­mi­da­ble ally in the fight against the Is­lamic State ji­hadist group, and left to fend for them­selves in the bat­tle against Turk­ish forces.

The mas­sively out­gunned Kurds de­scribed their deal with the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment as a nec­es­sary step to stop the as­sault.

“In order to pre­vent and con­front this ag­gres­sion, an agree­ment has been reached with the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment … so that the Syr­ian army can de­ploy along the Syr­ian-Turk­ish bor­der to as­sist the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces (SDF),” the Kur­dish ad­min­is­tra­tion said in a state­ment.

It came after Syria’s state news agency SANA said the army was send­ing troops to the north to “con­front the Turk­ish ag­gres­sion.”

In an ed­i­to­rial pub­lished in For­eign Pol­icy mag­a­zine, SDF chief Ma­zlum Abdi wrote: “If we have to choose be­tween com­pro­mises and the geno­cide of our peo­ple, we will surely choose life for our peo­ple.”

Kur­dish au­thor­i­ties and for­eign pow­ers have warned of a ma­jor hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis, which has al­ready forced tens of thou­sands to flee their homes.

They have also warned re­peat­edly that the hos­til­i­ties could un­der­mine the fight against IS and al­low ji­hadists to break out of cap­tiv­ity.

More civil­ian ca­su­al­ties

Tur­key’s Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan said the aim of Op­er­a­tion Peace Spring was to es­tab­lish a “se­cu­rity zone” that would ex­tend 30 to 35 kilo­me­ters (20 to 25 miles) into Syria and run be­tween Kobane to Hasakeh, a stretch of 440 kilo­me­ters.

The Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights war mon­i­tor said at least 26 civil­ians were killed on Sun­day.

Among them was Kur­dish news agency ANHA’s cor­re­spon­dent, Saad Ah­mad. He died in a Turk­ish air strike on a con­voy of vehicles trans­port­ing civil­ians and jour­nal­ists.

At least 60 civil­ians have now died on the Syr­ian side of the bor­der, with Turk­ish re­ports putting the num­ber of civil­ians dead from Kur­dish shelling in­side Tur­key at 18.

Aid groups have warned of an­other hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ter in Syria’s eight-year-old war if the of­fen­sive is not halted.

The U.N. hu­man­i­tar­ian agency OCHA said the ex­o­dus sparked by the fight­ing had grown to 130,000 peo­ple and it was pre­par­ing for that fig­ure to more than triple.

France’s Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron said the Turk­ish of­fen­sive — over which France has sus­pended arms ex­ports to Ankara — risked cre­at­ing an “un­bear­able hu­man­i­tar­ian sit­u­a­tion.”

Macron told re­porters that he and Ger­many’s Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel had spo­ken sep­a­rately with Trump and Er­do­gan to de­liver a sin­gle, clear mes­sage: “Our com­mon wish is that the of­fen­sive must cease.”

Prime Min­is­ter Giuseppe Conte of Italy, one of Ankara’s main arms sup­pli­ers, said he would press for an EU ban on arms sales to Tur­key.

On the ground, the Kur­dish ad­min­is­tra­tion in north­ern Syria said that Turk­ish bom­bard­ment near a camp for the dis­placed led to nearly 800 rel­a­tives of IS mem­bers flee­ing.

Some 12,000 IS fight­ers — Syr­i­ans, Iraqis as well as for­eign­ers from 54 coun­tries — are de­tained in Kur­dish pris­ons, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial Kur­dish sta­tis­tics.

Trump tweeted on Sun­day that “the U.S. has the worst of the ISIS pris­on­ers,” us­ing an acro­nym for IS, but added: “Tur­key and the Kurds must not let them es­cape.”

Dis­place­ment camps host some 12,000 for­eign­ers — 8,000 chil­dren and 4,000 women.

“The bru­tal mil­i­tary as­sault led by Tur­key and its merce­nar­ies is now tak­ing place near a camp in Ain Issa, where there are thou­sands (of peo­ple) from fam­i­lies of IS,” a Kur­dish ad­min­is­tra­tion state­ment said.

AFP-Yonhap

Kur­dish pro­test­ers wave their na­tional flags as well as plac­ards bear­ing the por­trait of Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, dur­ing a demon­stra­tion against the lat­est Turk­ish mil­i­tary of­fen­sive in north­east­ern Syria, in cen­tral Beirut’s Mar­tyrs Square, Sun­day.

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