Turkish-Kurdish cease-fire on edge as one soldier is killed

Last Updated: Sunday, 20 October 2019 (16:48 IST)
One Turkish soldier has been killed and
another injured as the Kurdish YPG and Turkish ground forces clashed in northeastern Syria’s Tel Abyad, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said on Sunday.
 
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The death comes amid accusations from both sides that the other is breaching the cease-fire arrangement.
 
A day earlier, the ministry said Turkey was “completely abiding” by a US-brokered ceasefire in northern Syria, and accused Kurdish fighters of carrying out 14 “attacks” over the past 36 hours, mostly near the border town of Ras al-Ayn.
 
Kurdish fighters said Turkish-backed forces besieged the town and were preventing the Kurdish withdrawal and evacuation of wounded.
 
Syrian state media said Saturday that government forces have clashed with Turkey-backed forces in the region. Damascus deployed troops to northern near Ras al-Ayn to aid Kurdish forces.
 
In a statement, Syrian forces accused of failing to abide by the cease-fire agreement and refusing to lift the siege of Ras al-Ayn.
 
Later Saturday, a medical convoy, which had been blocked since Thursday by Turkish-backed rebels, was allowed into Ras al-Ayn, activists said.
 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said sporadic shelling continued to hit Ras al-Ayn on Saturday.
 
Turkey denies breaking fragile cease-fire
 
A senior Turkish military official denied that Turkey’s military was blocking the withdrawal of Kurdish fighters from the border areas and said Turkey was fully behind the cease-fire deal.
 
“It’s bizarre to think that we’d violate an agreement that we like,” the official said, adding that Turkey got “everything it wanted” with the deal.
 
On Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip agreed to a five-day cease-fire after talks with US Vice President Mike Pence. The cease-fire is intended to allow time for the Kurdish fighters to withdraw from a “safe zone” Turkey aims to establish in northeastern Syria near the Turkish border.
 
Ankara demands that Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) leave a 444-kilometer-long (275-mile-long) and 32-kilometer-deep area along the border with Turkey.
 
The Kurdish-led forces in Syria, which only had an indirect role in shaping the cease-fire, said it will abide by the halt in fighting.
 
Redur Khalil, a senior SDF official, said Saturday that Kurdish forces would pull back from the border area in accordance with the ceasefire agreement after Turkey allows for remaining fighters and civilians to evacuate Ras al-Ayn.
 
Erdogan says Turkey will ‘crush’ terrorists
 
“If it works, it works. If not, we will continue to crush the heads of the terrorists the minute the 120 hours are over,” Erdogan told supporters Saturday in the central Turkish province of Kayseri.
 
Turkey said the presence of Syrian troops in the border region complicated Ankara’s plan to build a “safe zone” in Syria where it plans to resettle up to 2 million refugees currently living in Turkey.
 
“If the promises that were made to us are not kept, we will not wait as we did before and we will continue the operation where it left off once the time we set has run out,” said Erdogan.