Turkey refuses to agree ceasefire in Syria

  • 01/09/2016
President Tayyip Erdogan said through a spokesman that Turkey would continue striking Kurdish militia until they withdrew (Reuters)
President Tayyip Erdogan said through a spokesman that Turkey would continue striking Kurdish militia until they withdrew (Reuters)

Turkey will not agree to a truce with Kurdish militias in Syria as it considers them terrorists after strains emerged with the United States over clashes between Turkish forces and the US-backed Syrian fighters.

Washington has been alarmed by Turkey's week-long incursion into Syria, saying it was "unacceptable" for its NATO ally to hit militias loyal to Kurdish-aligned Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that Washington supports to fight against Islamic State.

US officials on Tuesday welcomed what appeared to be a pause in fighting between Turkish forces and rival militias, although Ankara denied assertions from Kurdish fighters in Syria that a temporary truce had been agreed.

"The Turkish Republic is a sovereign state, a legitimate state. It cannot be equated with a terrorist organisation," EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik told state-run Anadolu news agency on Wednesday, adding this meant there could be no "agreement between the two."

His comments were echoed by President Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, who said Turkey would continue striking Kurdish militia until they withdrew from the region where Turkish forces are fighting.

Turkey's aim was to drive Islamic State out of a 90km stretch of Syrian territory running along the border, Kalin said. Turkey has long said it wants a "buffer zone" in the area, although it has not used the term during this incursion.

After days when the border area reverberated with warplanes roaring overhead into Syria and artillery pounded Syrian sites, only the occasional thud of explosions in the distance was audible from the Turkish frontier town of Karkamis on Wednesday.

Karkamis lies just across the border from the northern Syrian town of Jarablus, which was swiftly captured from Islamic State by Turkish-backed forces when they launched the offensive dubbed "Euphrates Shield" on August 24.

Since then, the Turkish army with its allies have pushed further south, seizing a string of villages in areas controlled by militias loyal to the Kurdish-backed SDF, which drove Islamic State out of the city of Manbij this month with US help.

Turkey, which is battling a decades-long Kurdish insurgency at home, fears Kurdish-aligned forces will capture areas previously held by Islamic State, giving them control of an unbroken swathe of territory running along the Turkish border.

Since the start of the campaign, the Turkish army has said it has bombarded dozens of targets that it says were held by the Kurdish YPG militia, a powerful force in the SDF. The YPG says its forces withdrew from the area long before Turkey's assault.

Turkey has demanded the YPG cross the Euphrates river into a Kurdish-controlled canton in Syria's northeast. US officials have threatened to withdraw backing for the YPG if it did not meet that demand, but said this had mostly happened.

Turkey's EU affairs minister said some Kurdish fighters were still on the western side and called that "unacceptable."