Syria: A Cease-Fire Declared Between Turkey and the Kurds

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Syria: a cease-fire declared between Turkey and the Kurds

Turkey agreed on Thursday 17th October 2019 to suspend its offensive in northeastern Syria and the Kurds say they are ready to respect the “ceasefire”.

Turkey agreed on Thursday 17th October 2019 to suspend its offensive in the northeast of Syria and to put a definitive end if Kurdish forces are pulling in five days, in order to create a “zone security “.

To allow a withdrawal of Kurdish forces “under 120 hours, all military operations in the framework of the operation (Turkish) + Source of Peace + will be suspended and the operation will be completely stopped once this withdrawal completed,” said the US Vice President Mike Pence to the press after more than four hours of talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Kurds “ready”

The Kurdish forces declared themselves ready, by the voice of one of their commanders, to respect the “cease-fire” with Turkey.

According to the agreement announced by Mr Pence, these forces will have to withdraw from a sector of a depth of 32 km supposed to eventually transform into a “security zone”, in favour of which Turkey has been campaigning for months.

The Turks promised the Americans that this “security zone” would be temporary and would not cause massive population displacements, the US special representative for Syria, James Jeffrey, said on Thursday evening aboard the secretary’s plane. US state Mike Pompeo.

Kurdish civilians flee the Syrian town of Kobane, near the Turkish border, on October 16, 2019.
Kurdish civilians flee the Syrian town of Kobane, near the Turkish border, on October 16, 2019. (© AFP / Bakr ALKASEM)

Bloody guerrilla since 1984

Named “Source of Peace”, the Turkish offensive against YPG Kurdish forces in northwestern Syria, launched on October 9, has sparked international outcry because of the leading role played by Kurds in the fight against the jihadists of the Islamic State (IS) group.

But Ankara calls them “terrorists” because of their links with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been conducting bloody guerrilla warfare in Turkey since 1984.

Sanctions lifted

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu confirmed the agreement, which was the subject of a “joint Turkish-American declaration on northeastern Syria” and was made public in the evening.

“We are suspending the operation, we are not stopping it,” Cavusoglu told reporters. “We can stop the operation only when (the Kurdish forces) have withdrawn completely from the region,” he added, refusing, however, to speak of a ceasefire.

US President Donald Trump appeared to have given the green light to the Turkish offensive before, in the face of the outcry in Western countries and within his camp, to urge Ankara to put an end to it and to authorize sanctions against Turkey. Pence said the sanctions would be lifted as soon as Turkey ended its offensive.

Security zone

Trump spoke of a “big day” for Turkey and the Kurds. “We have a five-day ceasefire,” he said in Texas. “The Kurds are incredibly happy with this solution,” he added, saying he was particularly pleased that the negotiations had come “as fast”.

Pence, who has repeatedly spoken of a “ceasefire,” said Washington had already begun to “facilitate the withdrawal (of Kurdish forces) from this area. 20 miles (32 km) to Syria south of the Turkish border.

He did not specify the planned length of this zone, which according to the “joint Turkish-American declaration” will be implemented mainly by the Turkish army. Erdogan said on Oct. 13 that the area should eventually stretch the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border, a length of 480 km.

500 dead, including about 100 civilians

According to Pence, Ankara also pledged not to conduct a military operation in the city of Kobane, from where the YPG dislodged the IS in 2015 after a highly symbolic battle.

The Turkish offensive has killed nearly 500 people, including around 100 civilians, and has displaced 300,000 people since its launch on October 9, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH).

The mission of Mr Pence, accompanied by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, announced however difficult given the inflexibility that had displayed Mr Erdogan.

Smoke escaping from the Syrian city of Ras al-Ain on Thursday, October 17, 2019.
Smoke escaping from the Syrian city of Ras al-Ain on Thursday, October 17, 2019. (© AFP / Ozan KOSE)

Return of Damascus regime

The Turko-American deal comes as the fighting raged during the day, especially in Ras al-Ain, a border town whose Syrian army and its Syrian counterparts now control nearly half, according to the OSDH.

An AFP correspondent from the Turkish side of the Ras al-Ain front has heard continuous airstrikes, artillery fire and automatic gunfire. Kurdish authorities called for a “humanitarian corridor” to evacuate civilians and wounded.

The pro-Ankara forces had taken Kurdish militia on 13 October from another border town, Tal Abyad.

The Turkish operation has also rebuffed the maps in northern Syria, a new epicentre of the conflict that has been tearing the country apart since 2011. In favour of an agreement with the Kurdish forces, the Damascus regime has indeed returned to regions which had been elusive for years and Moscow began to fill the void left by the withdrawal of US forces.

Syrian government forces arrive at Tal Tamr, not far from Ras al-Ain, on October 15, 2019.
Syrian government forces arrive at Tal Tamr, not far from Ras al-Ain, on October 15, 2019. (© AFP / Archives / Delil SOULEIMAN)

Eliminate Daesh

The Turkish offensive particularly worries Europeans, who fear the escape of foreign jihadists hitherto held by Kurdish forces.

At a summit in Brussels, the leaders of the European Union renewed their “condemnation of the unilateral military intervention by Turkey (…), which causes unacceptable human suffering, compromises the fight against Daesh (the State group”). Islamic Republic) and seriously threatens European security “.

According to the joint statement, Turkey and the United States have been furious “to continue efforts to eliminate ISIS in northeastern Syria” and to coordinate on the topic of “detention centres” of jihadists.

Taking advantage of the withdrawal of the Americans, and in order to avoid a major confrontation between the Damascus forces and the Turkish military, the Russian military police conduct patrols in the sector of Minbej, according to Moscow. The Turkish president will meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on October 22.

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