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Erdogan threatens to restart Syria offensive if Kurds fail to withdraw

Turkish soldiers stand atop of a tank as army vehicles are moving on a road near the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province, Turkey, October 18, 2019.
Turkish soldiers stand atop of a tank as army vehicles are moving on a road near the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province, Turkey, October 18, 2019. Stoyan Nenov / Reuters

Turkey's president on Friday warned that Ankara would restart its Syria offensive by next Tuesday if Kurdish forces do not withdraw from a "safe zone" as EU leaders slammed the terms of a ceasefire deal negotiated by Washington.

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Following talks with US Vice-President Mike Pence on Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to suspend the offensive for five days to allow Kurdish fighters to withdraw from border areas in northern Syria.

"If the promises are kept until Tuesday evening, the safe zone issue will be resolved. If it fails, the operation... will start the minute 120 hours are over," Erdogan told reporters during a briefing in Istanbul.

He said Turkish armed forces would remain in the region "because the security there requires this", adding that there had been no issues so far.

However, AP reporters early on Friday reported sporadic artillery strikes and shooting in Ras al-Ain, a Syrian town at the centre of the fight between Turkey and Kurdish forces.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor also reported that five civilians had been killed in a Turkish air strike on the village of Bab al-Kheir, east of Ras al-Ain.

EU slams ‘demand of capitulation’

On Friday, EU Council President Donald Tusk criticised the Turkish offensive and the terms of the US-brokered ceasefire, describing the truce as “not serious” and calling on Ankara to halt its operations against Kurdish fighters.

"This so-called ceasefire. This is not what we expected. In fact it is not a ceasefire, it is a demand of capitulation of the Kurds," Tusk said after the EU summit.

"We have to reiterate our call for Turkey to put a permanent end to its military action immediately and to withdraw its forces and respect international humanitarian law," he said.

Addressing reporters after a European Council summit in Brussels, French President Emmanuel Macron also reiterated his criticism of the Turkish offensive, describing it as "madness" and lamenting the failure by the NATO alliance – of which Turkey is a member – to react to the assault.

Erdogan to meet Putin

Turkey launched the cross-border incursion on October 9 after repeatedly threatening to clear the border area from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia.

Erdogan said the "safe zone" would be 32 kilometres (20 miles) deep, and 444 kilometres in length, "not between Kobane and Tal Abyad".

He added that the region between the border towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain had been cleared, "but this is not over. The process is ongoing."

The Turkish leader said he would discuss with Russia's Vladimir Putin next week what steps to take in a planned "safe zone" in northeast Syria, adding that Moscow needed to lead efforts to establish peace in western Syria.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS, AP)

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