In an entirely unsurprising development, it only took hours for Turkey to break the US-brokered deal for a 5-day ceasefire in northern Syria. The late Thursday newly inked ceasefire was announced by Vice President Mike Pence following a lengthy meeting with President Erdogan; it crucially involved allowing Kurdish fighters to evacuate battleground border towns and in exchange Turkey would agree to halt its offensive.
But new Turkish air strikes near the border town of Ras al-Ain have shattered the apparently fragile agreement. “Five civilians were killed in Turkish air strikes on the village of Bab al-Kheir, east of Ras al-Ain,” one Syrian war monitoring group cited in the AFP said. Four SDF fighters were also reported killed in that strike, according to the report.
In an official statement the SDF condemned what it called a clear violation of the terms of the US-Turkish agreement. “Despite the agreement to halt the fighting, air and artillery attacks continue to target the positions of fighters, civilian settlements and the hospital” in Ras al-Ain, spokesman Mustefa Bali said.
This despite no Syrian Kurdish representatives being part of the closed door, last minute deal-making in Ankara on Thursday, and despite international pundits noting neither Washington nor the US-backed Syrian Kurds received anything significant in their favor.
Indeed one Turkish official in the immediate aftermath of the deal had boasted to Middle East Eye “We got exactly what we wanted out of the meeting.”
An AFP report described some of the circumstances of the alleged Turkish ceasefire violation as follows:
The incident took place even as a 200-vehicle convoy headed towards Ras al-Ain to evacuate civilians who have been virtually besieged there since the start of Turkey’s cross-border assault on October 9.
A central element to the deal is that Kurdish forces would be allowed to withdraw from the border outside a strip 32 kilometers, or 20 miles, deep. This area of the ceasefire zone, once a “pause” in fighting leads to a more permanent ceasefire, is to be the future area of a Turkish administered ‘safe zone’ where Ankara intends to resettle a million or more refugees.
Yesterday: Ceasefire agreement in northern #Syria
Today: Turkish airstrikes kill 5 civilians and wound over 20
— Danny Makki (@Dannymakkisyria) October 18, 2019
Critics have noted this will be tantamount to ‘legalized’ ethnic cleansing, as Erdogan has expressly stated his intent to cleanse it of Kurds while moving Syrian Arab refugees and ethnic Turkmen in.
The Kurdish-led SDF, meanwhile, has agreed only to a ceasefire in the area between Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad to its west, or in areas that Turkish forces have already effectively captured.
Military situation in northern Syria days before Thursday’s US-brokered ceasefire with Ankara, envisioning the 32km-deep ‘safe zone’ Erdogan desires to establish.
President Trump, for his part has praised the deal as marking “a great day for civilization” and that “millions of lives will be saved” according to a Thursday tweet.
However, Washington’s relations with Turkey continue to be at a boiling point, given President Erdogan for the first time lashed out in statements early Friday with respect to Trump’s now infamous ‘don’t be a tough guy or a fool’ letter over the deteriorating Syria situation. Erdogan told reporters that his country wouldn’t forget the lack of respect.
“We don’t see this issue as our priority today,” he told reporters in Istanbul. But, “it should be known that when the time comes, necessary action will be taken regarding this issue.” Trump and Erdogan are still expected to meet in Washington on Nov. 13. By then, of course, the big ceasefire deal in northern Syria could be in complete tatters and all but dead.