Turkey wants Syr­ian forces to leave bor­der ar­eas

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Second Front - By KARL RIT­TER and SARAH EL DEEB

IS­TAN­BUL — Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan wants Syr­ian gov­ern­ment forces to move out of ar­eas near the Turk­ish bor­der so he can re­set­tle up to 2 mil­lion refugees there, his spokesman told The As­so­ci­ated Press on Satur­day. The re­quest will top Er­do­gan’s talks next week with Syria’s ally, Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

Ar­range­ments along the Syr­ian-Turk­ish bor­der were thrown into dis­ar­ray af­ter the U.S. pulled its troops out of the area, open­ing the door to Turkey’s in­va­sion aim­ing to drive out Kur­dish-led fight­ers it con­sid­ers ter­ror­ists.

Aban­doned by their Amer­i­can al­lies, the Kurds — with Rus­sia’s me­di­a­tion — in­vited Da­m­as­cus to send troops into north­east­ern Syria as pro­tec­tion from Turk­ish forces. That has com­pli­cated Turkey’s plan to cre­ate a “safe zone” along the bor­der, where it can re­set­tle Syr­ian refugees now in Turkey. Most of those refugees fled Syria’s gov­ern­ment.

Er­do­gan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin said Ankara does not want ei­ther Syr­ian forces nor Kur­dish fight­ers in the bor­der area because refugees would not go back to ar­eas un­der their con­trol.

Turkey has said it wants to over­see that area.

“This is one of the top­ics that we will dis­cuss with the Rus­sians, because, again, we are not go­ing to force any refugees to go to any­where they don’t want to go,” he said. “We want to cre­ate con­di­tions that will be suit­able for them to re­turn where they will feel safe.”

Turkey has taken in about 3.6 mil­lion Syr­i­ans flee­ing the con­flict in their home­land but now wants most of them to re­turn. So far, very few have re­turned to an en­clave Turkey al­ready took over and has con­trolled since 2017.

Un­der an agree­ment made by the U.S. and Turkey Thurs­day, a five-day cease­fire has been in place. Turkey ex­pects the Kur­dish fight­ers to pull back from a bor­der area.

A se­nior Syr­ian Kur­dish of­fi­cial ac­knowl­edged for the first time that the Kur­dish-led forces agreed to the pull­back, stat­ing that his forces will move 30-kilo­me­ter (19 miles) south of the bor­der.

Re­dur Khalil, a se­nior Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces of­fi­cial, told the AP that the with­drawal will take place once Turkey al­lows the Kur­dish-led force to evac­u­ate its fight­ers and civil­ians from Ras al-Ayn, a bor­der town un­der siege by Turk­ish-backed forces. He said that Kur­dish-led force was pre­par­ing plans to con­duct that evac­u­a­tion on Sun­day, if there are no fur­ther de­lays.

Khalil said Kur­dish-led fight­ers would pull back from a 120-kilo­me­ter (75-mile) stretch along the bor­der from Ras al-Ayn to Tal Abyad, mov­ing past the in­ter­na­tional high­way.

“We are only com­mit­ted to the U.S. ver­sion not the Turk­ish one,” Khalil said.

A pre­vi­ous agree­ment be­tween the U.S. and Turkey over a “safe zone” along the Syria-Turk­ish bor­der floun­dered over the di­verg­ing def­i­ni­tions of the area.

Er­do­gan has said the Kur­dish fight­ers must with­draw from a far larger length of the bor­der from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi bor­der — more than 260 miles — or else the Turk­ish of­fen­sive will re­sume on Tuesday.

But U.S. of­fi­cials say the agree­ment per­tains to the smaller sec­tion be­tween the two towns. Kalin con­firmed that is the area af­fected by the pause in fight­ing, but said Turkey still wants the larger zone.

Two days into the cease-fire, the bor­der town of Ras al-Ayn has been the stick­ing point in mov­ing for­ward.

“We hope that as of tonight or to­mor­row, they will stick to this agree­ment and leave the area,” Kalin said.

The Kur­dish of­fi­cial mean­while said his force had ne­go­ti­ated with the Amer­i­cans the de­tails of its pull-back from the bor­der, start­ing with the Ras al-Ayn evac­u­a­tion. But he said the evac­u­a­tion stalled for 48 hours because Turk­ish-backed forces con­tin­ued their siege of the town.

A par­tial evac­u­a­tion took place Satur­day. Med­i­cal con­voys were let into part of the town still in Kur­dish hands, evac­u­at­ing 30 wounded and four bod­ies from a hos­pi­tal. Khalil said the plan to com­plete the evac­u­a­tion from Ras al-Ayn is now set for Sun­day.

Turk­ish of­fi­cials de­nied vi­o­lat­ing the cease-fire or im­ped­ing the fight­ers’ with­drawal, blam­ing the con­tin­ued vi­o­lence on the Kurds.

If Kur­dish fight­ers then pull back from the 120-kilo­me­ters (75 miles) bor­der area, it is un­cer­tain what the ar­range­ment would be along the rest of the north­east­ern bor­der, most of which re­mains solely in the hands of Kur­dish-led fight­ers.

Last week, Syr­ian forces be­gan de­ploy­ing into Kur­dish ar­eas, mov­ing only into one lo­ca­tion di­rectly on the bor­der, the town of Kobani, and a few po­si­tions fur­ther south.

As­so­ci­ated Press

In this Fri­day photo, Turk­ish-backed Syr­ian op­po­si­tion fight­ers ride atop their ar­mored per­son­nel car­rier to cross the bor­der into Syria, in Akcakale, San­li­urfa prov­ince, south­east­ern Turkey.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.