Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has categorically rejected a US-brokered ceasefire in Syria, further heightening tension ahead of US Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to Turkey on Wednesday.
Just a week after the Turkish offensive began against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, the military operation has re-mixed the cards in this region, which has been at the center of the ongoing conflict in Syria since 2011.
Syrian government forces, in agreement with Kurdish fighters, returned to areas that had been out of Damascus’s control for years, while Moscow began to fill the vacuum left by the withdrawal of US troops.
After President Donald Trump initially gave a green light to the Turkish offensive by ordering the withdrawal of US troops from border points in northern Syria, he came under heavy criticism and called on Ankara to halt its offensive, imposing sanctions.
In this context, Trump decided to send Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Turkey, where they will meet Erdogan on Thursday in order to persuade him to negotiate a truce with Kurdish fighters.
The White House announced Tuesday that the vice president “will reaffirm Trump’s commitment to maintaining economic sanctions on Turkey until a solution is found”.
But the Turkish president, who has not paid attention to the many international criticisms he faced since the beginning of the attack, has already rejected this proposal.
“They are asking us to ‘announce a ceasefire’,” Erdogan told the Turkish press on Tuesday.
We can never declare a ceasefire as long as Turkey has not expelled the “terrorist organization” from its borders.
Turkey calls the YPG in northern Syria “terrorist” as an extension of the PKK, which has been waging a bloody insurgency for decades on Turkish soil.
In the meantime, the fighting continues fiercely.
According to an AFP correspondent in the Turkish city of Gilan Pinar on the border heard many explosions in the city of Ras Al Ain, where the fighting is concentrated as Kurdish fighters are trying to repel the Turkish troops attack.
Turkey, supported by pro-Syrian factions, on 9 October, supported by Syrian factions, launched Operation Spring of Peace against the formerly Western-backed Kurdish YPG for its key role in the fight against ISIS.
To counter the attack, the Kurds asked for help from Damascus, which has deployed troops in the north of the country, particularly in Manbij and Ras Al Ain, where two Syrian soldiers were killed late Tuesday by artillery fire from pro-Ankara Syrian factions, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
The observatory reported on Wednesday that clashes erupted between the Syrian army and Kurdish forces on the one hand, and factions loyal to Turkey on the other hand in Ain Issa.
With fears of a major confrontation between Syrian and Turkish forces with Syrian factions, Russian President Vladimir Putin invited Erdogan to visit Russia, the Kremlin said Tuesday.
The Russian Defense Ministry said Russian forces were continuing to patrol border areas along the “contact line” between Syrian and Turkish forces in the vicinity of Manbij.
Erdogan on Tuesday condemned the “dirty deal” between Kurdish forces and the Damascus regime, saying that the entry of Damascus forces into Manbij “isn’t a very negative development for us”.
The declared objective of the Turkish operation is to establish a 32-kilometer “safe zone” on Turkey’s border, which will return a portion of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees on its territory, away from its borders, the Kurds who consider it a source of destabilization.
The Turkish attack, according to the observatory, killed about 71 civilians and 158 fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces, in addition to the deaths of 128 members of the Syrian factions loyal to Turkey.
Ankara, for its part, counted the killing of six Turkish soldiers, and 20 civilians by shells accused of Kurdish fighters fired at border areas, while recording the deaths of 128 among the Syrian factions loyal to Turkey.
The operation also displaced 160,000 people from their homes in northern Syria, according to the United Nations.
Several European countries have expressed fears that several ISIS fighters being held by Kurdish forces have fled.
But French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Wednesday that the camps where the fighters were being held weren’t threatened “for the time being”.