Thu, 21 Nov 2019

Turkey has announced that there was "no need" to restart its offensive against Kurdish fighters outside the current area of operation in Syria because it had been informed by the United States their withdrawal from the border area in the north had been "completed."

'At this stage, there is no further need to carry out a new operation,' the defense ministry said late on October 22 in a statement, as cited by AFP.

The news comes after Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met for six hours the same day in a private meeting at the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

During talks they agreed to conduct joint military patrols in northeast Syria and gave Kurdish fighters a new deadline to clear out of the area just hours before the expiration of a U.S.-brokered cease-fire.

Russian and Turkish officials said a new cease-fire, set to last 150 hours, is planned to begin at midday on October 23 (1100 Prague time) and that Kurdish militias would be required to clear out of a 32-kilometer buffer zone inside Syria along a 120-kilometer border region with Turkey.

The joint decisions that were announced signaled a dramatic and swift transformation of the Syrian map caused by U.S. President Donald Trump's decision two weeks ago to withdraw American soldiers from the area.

Kurdish forces had controlled much of the area discussed in the cease-fire and for five years had fought alongside U.S. troops while succeeding to defeat the rule of the Islamic State (IS) group at the expense of thousands of Kurdish fighters' lives.

Now, much of the territory is transferring over to U.S. rivals.

[...]

Erdogan and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed that Turkish and Russian troops would begin joint patrols in Syria in a buffer zone some 10 kilometers deep from the Turkish border, but that Turkey's self-declared 'terror-free safe zone' would extend some 20 kilometers further into Syria.

'Within 150 hours from noon, October 23, YPG terrorists and their weapons will be taken outside of 30 kilometers,' Erdogan announced, referring to the Kurdish YPG militia that Ankara says is associated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a guerrilla campaign inside Turkey since the 1980s.

A Kurdish official confirmed that the militias had left the region in compliance with the U.S.-brokered deal to halt the Turkish offensive.

'We have fully complied with the conditions of the ceasefire agreement.... We have withdrawn all our military and security forces from the area of military operations from Ras al-Ain in the east to Tal Abyad in the west,' Kurdish official Redur Khalil told AFP.

Russia and Iran have provided crucial support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country's more than eight-year civil war. The United States has backed antigovernment forces, including the YPG, while Turkey has backed differing rebel groups.

Syria has condemned Turkey's offensive and has suggested it could ally with the Kurdish fighters.

Assad on October 22 characterized Erdogan as a 'thief,' according to the state news agency SANA.

Turkey launched its offensive against Kurdish-led forces on October 9 after U.S. President Donald Trump announced he was withdrawing the bulk of U.S. troops from northeast Syria.

U.S. officials later said the 1,000 troops would transfer to Iraq to help in the fight against IS militants there. However, Iraqi officials later said they did not have permission to remain there, leading the Pentagon to say they would stay only 'temporarily' before returning to the United States.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on October 21 said Trump is prepared to use military force if "needed," when asked about NATO ally Turkey's attack on the Kurds.

Critics at home and abroad have called Trump's decision a "betrayal" of U.S.-allied Kurds, and many expressed concerns that the thousands of IS prisoners being held by the Kurdish militias would be able to flee during the fighting.

European Council President Donald Tusk on October 22 condemned the EU candidate Turkey's invasion of Syria and urged Erdogan to pull back his troops.

Trump has authorized $4.5 million to support Syrian rescue workers known as the White Helmets, the White House said on October 22.

The funding, approved the previous day, is part of the United States' continued support for the organization and its work in Syria.

On October 22, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said up to 500 prisoners had escaped since Turkey's invasion started in the absence of security guards, without providing details.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, CNBC, CNN, AFP, and BBC

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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