Syria Truce Shaky as Erdogan, Kurds Disagree on What It Means





(Bloomberg) -- Kurdish fighters say they have no intention of withdrawing from Syria's entire northeastern border -- but that's exactly what Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expects to happen under the cease-fire accord brokered by the U.S. on Thursday.

The conflicting interpretations point to the fragility of the five-day truce deal, which is already being tested with reports of continuing skirmishes between Turkish forces and Syria's Kurdish YPG militia, which is part of an autonomous administration in the northeast.

Ankara says the YPG is linked to Kurdish separatists that it has battled for decades, and launched an offensive into northeastern Syria more than a week ago to push the group back from its border.

After days of fighting, Turkey's army now controls less than 120 kilometers (75 miles) of the frontier between the Syrian towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn. But it wants to create a buffer zone on hundreds more, stretching from the Euphrates River in the west to the Iraqi border in the east.

The deal struck by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Erdogan -- under which American troops would guide a YPG exit -- was vague on detail. But Turkey has made its interpretation clear.

Turkish officials including Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu were quick to boast that they had been given pretty much all they desired.

With the ink on the agreement barely dry, Erdogan made it clear that the Kurds must leave a zone 444 km long and as deep as 32 km.

"If their promise is not kept the minute when the 120th hour ends, then our operation will continue with even more determination from where it was left off," Erdogan said in Istanbul on Friday.

Turkey, U.S. Agree to Brief Cease-Fire to Allow Kurdish Retreat

But the commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, General Mazloum Abdi, sees it differently. He said Thursday night the cease-fire deal was limited to the 120-km stretch between Tal Abyad and Ras Al-Ayn.

Jim Jeffrey, the U.S. special envoy for the Syria conflict who was with Pence in Ankara, highlighted the potential obstacle to a lasting deal.

"The Turks talk about an aspirational safe zone," he said, while the U.S. has only defined a central section of the northeast corridor, where Turkish forces have penetrated as deep as 30 kilometers. With Kurdish-led forces vowing not to accept a "Turkish occupation of Syrian territory," the fighting might not be over yet.

Amid differing views on the zone, there were reports of sporadic clashes, airstrikes and Turkish shelling in the area, resulting in the death of 14 people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group.

Most of the fighting in northeast Syria has stopped, a U.S. official said, asking not to be identified. It will take time for things to completely quiet down, which is usually the case in situations like this, the official said.

(Updates on casualties, U.S. official view on truce.)

--With assistance from Justin Sink.

To contact the reporter on this story: Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara at shacaoglu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Onur Ant at oant@bloomberg.net;Lin Noueihed at lnoueihed@bloomberg.net;Kevin Whitelaw at kwhitelaw@bloomberg.net

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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