Shelling continues in NE Syria despite ceasefire agreement – SDF

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) accused Turkey of violating the truce brokered by the US.

“Despite the agreement to halt the fighting, [Turkish] air and artillery attacks continue to target the positions of fighters [and] civilian settlements,” Reuters quoted SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali as saying.

According to Kurdish-led SDF Turkish forces had shelled the border town of Ras al Ain.

Reuters reported that shelling could be heard at the countries’ border on Friday morning despite the ceasefire, agreed between Turkey and the United States on Thursday.

United States Vice President Mike Pence announced on Thursday that Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has agreed to a five-day peace in northeast Syria for the US-allied Syrian Kurdish forces’ withdrawal from the region.

Pence’s press statement in the Turkish capital Ankara came around 9 pm local time, following a meeting between a high-level delegation of U.S. officials and Erdogan inside Turkey’s presidency complex.

According to a report by Washington Post, Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien arrived in Ankara on Thursday to warn Erdogan in a meeting against an escalation of economic sanctions if he doesn’t halt his offensive in Syria.

Turkey’s long-threatened military action against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia in northeast Syria began on October 9, with a stated aim to clear the region and create a “safe zone” along the border for the resettlement of Syrian refugees.

The YPG, an important US ally in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) in the region, is regarded by Ankara as a terrorist organization due to its links to the outlawed Kurdish separatists in Turkey called the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Pence’s office said earlier on Thursday that the meeting between US officials and the Turkish president lasted over five hours, which was more than two hours past its scheduled conclusion.

“There will be a pause in military operations for 120 hours while the United States facilitates the withdrawal of the YPG from the affected areas in the safe zone,” the US vice president announced alongside Pompeo during Thursday’s press meeting.

Pence added: “And once that is completed, Turkey has agreed to a permanent ceasefire.”

The withdrawal of the Syrian Kurdish forces from the border area has “literally already begun,” he informed, adding that they “greatly welcome the opportunity for a cease-fire, to make a safe and orderly withdrawal from those areas in the safe zone where they still have a presence.”

As part of Thursday’s cease-fire agreement, Turkey also promised to take no military action against the border town of Kobani, which was on Wednesday taken by Syrian forces allied with Syria’s President Bashar Assad, Pence further announced.

He indicated that the agreement between the two NATO allies entails no further US sanctions on Turkey and that the U.S. sanctions imposed on Monday in retaliation for Turkey’s incursion in Syria will be withdrawn as soon as the permanent cease-fire goes in effect.

The vice president also shared that the US President Donald Trump had just told him over a phone call that he was very grateful for President Erdogan’s willingness to step forward, to enact this cease-fire, and to give an opportunity for a peaceful solution to the conflict.

“A great news out of Turkey,” Trump said in a tweet prior to the press conference, hinting at Turkey’s agreement with the US delegation to halt its military operation in northeastern Syria.

“Thank you to [Turkish President Tayyip] Erdogan. Millions of lives will be saved!” Trump also said.

The US delegation’s visit to Ankara comes as Trump faces bipartisan condemnation in Washington for his withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria, which laid the ground for the Turkish incursion.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a staunch Republican ally, previously defined Trump’s decision to pull out American troops the “biggest mistake of his presidency.”

Graham also told reporters on Thursday that he is still not on the same page with President Trump about the US’ recent deal with Turkey.

“I just think if ISIS does come back, it is going to be to the president’s detriment,” he argued.

Turkey’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also held a press conference about the meeting with US delegation on Thursday, highlighting that what Turkey agreed to was not a “ceasefire” but a five-day-long “break” to the offensive.

A ceasefire is reached between two legitimate sides and not by a Kurdish militia that Turkey designates a terrorist group, the minister argued.

“Our ceasing of the offensive can only be discussed after YPG terrorists are totally withdrawn from the region,” he stated.

Underlined that Turkey did not promise not to take any military action against Kobani as Pence previously announced, Cavusoglu added: “We only said we would negotiate with Russia about the situation in Kobani. We did not give any promises.”

The minister also said that Kurdish fighters would be forced to give up their heavy weapons and their positions would be destroyed as part of Thursday’s agreement with the US.

Syrian regime troops enter SDF stronghold Kobani to halt Turkey’s advance

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