Erdogan threatens to restart Syria operation amid scattered fighting

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Shafaqna Pakistan:Scattered fighting flared in northern Syria on Friday despite a ceasefire deal as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned he would resume a full-scale operation against Kurdish forces if they do not withdraw from a border “safe zone.”

US President Donald Trump said Erdogan told him there had been “minor sniper and mortar fire” in the region “that was quickly eliminated” and the Turkish leader assured him in a call that “he very much wants the ceasefire, or pause, to work.”

Mustefa Bali, a spokesperson for the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), accused Turkey, however, of violating the ceasefire deal reached during a visit to Ankara on Thursday by US Vice President Mike Pence.

“Despite the agreement to halt the fighting, air and artillery attacks continue to target the positions of fighters, civilian settlements and the hospital” in the border town of Ras al-Ain in northeastern Syria, he said.

US Senator Lindsey Graham, who has strongly criticised Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syria, said he had spoken with SDF commander General Mazloum Abdi, who expressed concerns about the situation.

“General Mazloum is concerned about the ceasefire holding and was emphatic that he will never agree to the ethnic cleansing of Kurds that is being proposed in Ankara,” Graham said.

“A buffer zone is acceptable to the Kurds but a military occupation that displaces hundreds of thousands is not a safe zone,” Graham said. “It is ethnic cleansing.”

The deal brokered by Pence was meant to provide a five-day pause for the evacuation of Kurdish fighters from a “safe zone” Turkey wants to control along its border with Syria. Ankara considers the Kurdish forces to be “terrorists” linked to Kurdish rebels inside Turkey.

woman and a child react as the body of a man killed during Turkish shelling near the Syrian Kurdish town of Ras al-Ain arrives at a hospital in the nearby town of Tal Tamr. PHOTO: AFP

“If the promises are kept until Tuesday evening, the safe zone issue will be resolved,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul. “If it fails, the operation… will start the minute 120 hours are over.”

The suspension of hostilities looked designed to help Turkey achieve its main territorial goals without fighting, but its Syrian proxies continued to clash with Kurdish fighters on Friday.

Fourteen civilians were killed in Turkish airstrikes and mortar fire by allied fighters in and around the village of Bab al-Kheir, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Britain-based war monitor said eight fighters of the SDF – the de facto army of the embattled Kurdish autonomous region – also died.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who accompanied Pence to Ankara, said in an interview with Politico he was “confident” the ceasefire would take hold.