September 20, 2021

Kurds ‘break Syrian ceasefire’

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Kurdish commander Mazloum Abdi accused Turkey of sabotaging a US brokered ceasefire on Saturday as he confirmed his forces have resumed military operations against the Islamic State in Syria. 

President Tayyip Erdogan agreed to a five-day truce in his military offensive in northeastern Syria in talks with US Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday. 

But on Saturday, SDF commander Abdi accused Turkey of sabotaging the truce by blocking the withdrawal of his forces from flashpoint border town Ras al-Ain.

‘The Turks are preventing the withdrawal from the Ras al-Ain area, preventing the exit of our forces, the wounded and civilians,’ he said.

Fire and smoke rising from the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain in Turkey’s military operation against Kurdish forces on Friday

Under the US-brokered ceasefire, the massively outgunned SDF forces are meant to withdraw from a key strategic area near the Syrian-Turkish border within five days.

But Abdi said he could not abandon his forces in Ras al-Ain, which is besieged by Turkish troops and their Syrian allies.

He said the US was not doing enough to force Turkey to abide by the agreement, which was brokered by US Vice President Mike Pence after talks in Ankara.

‘If there is no commitment, we shall consider what happened a game between the Americans and Turkey – on one side preventing the troop withdrawal while on the other claiming our forces did not withdraw,’ he said. ‘We will consider it a conspiracy against our forces’.

He said SDF forces were committed to withdrawing ‘until a new security mechanism is in place to protect civilians’.    

Abdi added that Kurdish forces had resumed military operations against the Islamic State in Syria.

A Turkish-backed Syrian fighter sits on the side of the street in the town of Ayn al-Arus, south of the border town of Tal Abyad

‘We have restarted military action against IS cells in Deir Ezzor. Our forces are working there with the coalition forces,’ he said.

It comes as the Turkish defence ministry claimed Kurdish forces have carried out 14 ‘provocative attacks’ in the past 36 hours despite the ceasefire agreed on Thursday. 

In a statement released on Saturday, the Turkish defence ministry added it would continue to coordinate closely with the United States to allow the agreement to be implemented.   

‘The Turkish armed forces fully abides by the agreement’ reached 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 Kurdish attacks came from 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 on Thursday but Erdogan has warned he would resume a full-scale operation against Kurdish forces if they do not withdraw from a border ‘safe zone.’

The truce sets out a five-day pause to let the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces militia pull out of a ‘safe zone’ Turkey has vowed to create in territory extending more than 20 miles deep into Syria. 

‘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.

‘The Turkish armed forces fully abides by the agreement’ reached on Thursday with the United States, the defence ministry said in a statement

He added that the agreement was holding and there had been no issues so far. 

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

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Turkey-backed Syrian fighters had prevented a medical convoy from reaching Ras al-Ayn on Friday.

Ankara regards the YPG, the SDF’s main Kurdish component, a terrorist group because of its links to Kurdish insurgents operating in southeast Turkey. 

The five-day ceasefire was agreed on Thursday after Donald Trump dispatched Vice President Mike Pence to Ankara to end to the bloodshed – and a deal was announced that would see Turkey stop its attack while Kurdish forces withdraw from the border.

While Kurdish leadership agreed to the deal it was far from clear whether individual armed militias – who fought and died to claim the territory from ISIS – would willingly hand it over to Erdogan.

On Friday, smoke billowed over Ras al-Ayn as gunfire and shelling could be heard inside the city, though it was unclear who was firing at whom. 

The ceasefire had earlier been praised by Trump, who said it would save ‘millions of lives,’ while Turkey cast it as a complete victory.

If implemented, the deal would achieve all the main objectives Turkey announced when it launched its assault on October 9: control of a strip of Syria more than 20 miles deep, with the SDF forces agreed to pull out.

Republican and Democratic senators have accused Trump of having betrayed the Kurdish allies who were vital in fighting Islamic State militants, of brushing aside the humanitarian costs of Turkey’s invasion and of being outwitted by Ankara.

It was unclear what if any damage came from the shelling heard on Friday.

The five-day ceasefire was agreed on Thursday after Donald Trump dispatched Vice President Mike Pence to Ankara to end to the bloodshed (Pictured: Pence and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan)

It was also unclear whether the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) would fully comply with the agreement, which would leave Turkish forces in charge of a swathe of territory that the Kurds once held with US military support.

Mazloum Abdi, the commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, told Kurdish TV late on Thursday: ‘We will do whatever we can for the success of the ceasefire agreement.’

But one Kurdish official, Razan Hiddo, declared that the Kurdish people would refuse to live under Turkish occupation. 

Trump framed the US-brokered ceasefire deal with Turkey as ‘a great day for civilisation’ but its effect was largely to mitigate a foreign policy crisis widely seen to be of his own making.

Speaking at a rally in Dallas on Thursday, the US president said he allowed Turkish and Kurdish forces to clash in deadly battles because the two sides were like children who needed to fight each other.

‘It was unconventional what I did. I said they’re going to have to fight a little while,’ Trump said. ‘Like two kids in a lot, you have got to let them fight and then you pull them apart.

‘They fought for a few days and it was pretty vicious.’

More than 500 people have been killed including dozens of civilians, mostly on the Kurdish side, and 300,000 civilians have been displaced within Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.

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