Turkish FM: Operation to Resume if Kurdish Forces Do Not Withdraw

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TEHRAN (FNA)- Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs warned his country will resume its military operation in northeast Syria if Kurdish fighters do not withdraw from the region before the United States-brokered ceasefire ends on Tuesday evening.

“We have 35 hours left. If they don’t withdraw, our operation will resume,” Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday in Istanbul, adding that “this is also what we agreed with the Americans”, Al-Jazeera reported.

He stated that Kurdish fighters were complying with the US-backed deal and withdrawing from areas that Turkey controls following its wide-ranging military operation launched on October 9. Cavusoglu also accused Syrian Kurdish groups of 30 live-fire violations during the four-day-old truce which killed one Turkish soldier, noting that Ankara retaliated against these attacks.

Turkey has demanded that Kurdish forces withdraw from a 30-kilometer (19-mile) deep border strip in northern Syria, where it intends to resettle refugees. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a speech at the TRT World Forum in Istanbul, stated that the military offensive in Syria is not a land grab.

Erdogan also criticized Turkey’s allies for not supporting what he calls a fight against terrorists. Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Spokesman Kino Gabriel said in a statement on Sunday that the Kurdish-led group had no fighters left in Ras al-Ain following Sunday’s evacuation.

But Turkish-backed rebels, who took control of most of Ras al-Ain last week, disputed that claim, saying the Kurdish forces were still entrenched in nearly 30 percent of the area. Ras al-Ain is one of two towns on the Turkey-Syria border that have been the main targets of Ankara’s offensive to push back Kurdish fighters and create a “safe zone” inside Syria.

Ankara is seeking to set up the “safe zone” as a buffer as it regards the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the main component of the SDF, because of its links to Kurdish fighters in southeast Turkey. The YPG has been a close US ally in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

US President Donald Trump’s administration negotiated the five-day ceasefire with Erdogan after heavy criticism that Washington had abandoned the SDF and opened the way for Ankara’s offensive by removing its soldiers from northeast Syria.

Trump’s sudden troop withdrawal and the Turkish attack on the SDF have alarmed Western countries, which fear it could allow thousands of ISIS group fighters held by the Kurdish-led force to escape and regroup. Turkey has rejected the concerns, saying its offensive will not hinder the fight against ISIS or jeopardize the gains of the international community against the fighters.

Meanwhile, US troops withdrawn from northern Syria have crossed into the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, an Iraqi Kurdish security source told Reuters on Monday. Reuters video images showed armored vehicles carrying US troops through the Sahela border crossing into Iraq’s northern province of Dohuk.

United States Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Saturday that all of the nearly 1,000 US troops withdrawing from areas in northern Syria are expected to move to regions of western Iraq in order “to continue the campaign against ISIS” and “to help defend Iraq”.

At a planned meeting on Tuesday in the Russian city of Sochi, Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin will discuss the issue of Kurdish withdrawal from Manbij and Kobani, Cavusoglu announced on Sunday. While Erdogan and Putin have close ties on defense and energy, Moscow has called the Turkish offensive into Syria “unacceptable” and said it should be limited.

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