Tur­key, Kurds trade ac­cu­sa­tions over shaky Syria truce

Er­do­gan says Ankara to re­sume of­fen­sive if truce deal fal­ters

The Korea Times - - WORLD -

RAS AL-AIN, Syria (AFP) — Tur­key’s Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan fired off a fresh warn­ing Satur­day to “crush” Kur­dish forces as both sides traded ac­cu­sa­tions of vi­o­lat­ing a U.S.-bro­kered truce deal in north­east­ern Syria.

The deal an­nounced late Thurs­day is in­tended to halt a Turk­ish-led of­fen­sive against Kur­dish forces launched on Oct. 9, on con­di­tion they pull out of a “safe zone” on the Syr­ian side of the bor­der.

The of­fen­sive has killed dozens of civil­ians, mainly on the Kur­dish side, and prompted hun­dreds of thou­sands to flee their homes in the lat­est hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis of Syria’s eightyear civil war.

Er­do­gan warned that, if the pull­out does not hap­pen, “we will start where we left off and con­tinue to crush the ter­ror­ists’ heads.”

Turk­ish pres­i­dency spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Ankara had urged Wash­ing­ton to use its in­flu­ence to en­sure an or­derly Kur­dish pull­out.

“We have told our Amer­i­can col­leagues to use their lever­age, their con­nec­tions to make sure that they leave with­out any in­ci­dents,” he told AFP.

The top fig­ure on the Kur­dish side, Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces (SDF) com­man­der Ma­zloum Abdi, told AFP that Tur­key was block­ing his forces’ with­drawal and try­ing to blame the deal’s col­lapse on the Kurds.

“The Turks are pre­vent­ing the with­drawal from the Ras al-Ain area, pre­vent­ing the exit of our forces, the wounded and civil­ians,” Abdi said in a phone in­ter­view from Syria.

Al­most at the same mo­ment, the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights re­ported ar­tillery shelling on Ras al-Ain and sur­round­ing vil­lages by Tur­key’s Syr­ian prox­ies, the lat­est bom­bard­ment of the area since the truce.

Turk­ish troops and its Syr­ian rebel prox­ies seized part of the town of Ras al-Ain on Thurs­day, hit­ting a hos­pi­tal.

On Satur­day evening, an AFP re­porter saw peo­ple wait­ing out­side a hos­pi­tal in the town of Qamishli fur­ther east as am­bu­lance sirens rang out.

A Kur­dish Red Cres­cent of­fi­cial said res­cuers had man­aged to evac­u­ate some of the wounded from the Ras al-Ain hos­pi­tal.

“In town we were told there were many wounded and peo­ple un­der the rub­ble” but they could not be reached, he said.

The mas­sively out­gunned Kurds have agreed to the deal, whereby they should pull out of an Arab-ma­jor­ity area that in­cludes Ras al-Ain and stretches about 120 kilo­me­ters (75 miles) along the bor­der.

Tur­key wants to push Kur­dish forces away from its south­ern bor­der by es­tab­lish­ing a 30-kilo­me­ter deep “safe zone” on the Syr­ian side of the fron­tier.

The Turk­ish de­fense min­istry ear­lier blamed the SDF for not up­hold­ing the cease­fire, ac­cus­ing Kur­dish fight­ers of car­ry­ing out 14 at­tacks in 36 hours.

US troops leav­ing Syria to go to western Iraq

ABOARD A U.S. MIL­I­TARY AIR­CRAFT (AP) — De­fense Sec­re­tary Mark Esper said that un­der the cur­rent plan all U.S. troops leav­ing Syria will go to western Iraq and the mil­i­tary will con­tinue to con­duct oper­a­tions against the Is­lamic State group to pre­vent its resur­gence.

Speak­ing to re­porters trav­el­ing with him to the Mid­dle East, Esper did not rule out the idea that U.S. forces would con­duct coun­tert­er­ror­ism mis­sions from Iraq into Syria. But he said those de­tails will be worked out over time.

His com­ments were the first to specif­i­cally lay out where Amer­i­can troops will go as they leave Syria and what the counter-IS fight could look like. Esper said he has spo­ken to his Iraqi coun­ter­part about the plan to shift the more than 700 troops leav­ing Syria into western Iraq.

The de­vel­op­ments made clear that one of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ra­tio­nales for with­draw­ing troops from Syria was not go­ing to come to pass any time soon.

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