RAS AL-AIN: Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fired off a fresh warning on Saturday to “crush” Kurdish forces as both sides traded accusations of violating a US-brokered truce deal in north-eastern Syria.
The deal announced late on 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 eight-year civil war.
Erdogan warned that, if the pullout did not happen, “we will start where we left off and continue to crush the terrorists’ heads”.
The top figure on the Kurdish side, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) commander Mazloum Abdi, said that Turkey was preventing 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.
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 kilometres along the border.
The Turkish defence ministry earlier had blamed the SDF for not upholding the ceasefire. “Despite this, terrorists... carried out a total of 14 attacks in the last 36 hours,” it said, using its usual term for Kurdish fighters.
Turkish troops and Turkey’s Syrian rebel proxies seized part of the town on Thursday, hitting a hospital.
Turkey wants to push Kurdish fighters away from its southern border by establishing a 30-kilometre deep “safe zone” on the Syrian side of the frontier. On Friday, Turkish air strikes and mortar fire by allied Syrian fighters killed 14 civilians near Ras al-Ain, according to the Observatory.
Mazloum Abdi said the US was not doing enough to force Ankara to abide by the agreement, which was brokered by US Vice President Mike Pence.
Published in Dawn, October 20th, 2019