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Turkey to target 'terrorists' in Syria after cease-fire if no pact

By
Allen Cone
Smoke clouds rise from the scene of clashes near Ras al-Ayn, northeastern of Syria on Thursday, before cease-fire between Turkey and Kurdish militants. Despite the cease-fire, both sides said there has been fighting in the town. Photo by Ahmed Mardnli/EPA-EFE
Smoke clouds rise from the scene of clashes near Ras al-Ayn, northeastern of Syria on Thursday, before cease-fire between Turkey and Kurdish militants. Despite the cease-fire, both sides said there has been fighting in the town. Photo by Ahmed Mardnli/EPA-EFE

Oct. 19 (UPI) -- President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday that Turkey will resume targeting Kurdish "terrorists" in northern Syria once the 120-hour pause in fighting ends Tuesday if an agreement with the United States is not reached.

Erdogan's declaration comes amid reports from Syrian Kurds and Turkish-backed forces the stoppage of fight "is not holding," CNN reported. The Turkish government has insisted that the agreement is not a cease-fire and instead a pause.

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If the agreement "is not implemented, then we will continue crushing heads of terrorists a minute after 120 hours" Erdogan said at an opening ceremony at an event in the central Kayseri province of Turkey

"If promises given to Turkey are not kept as in the past, we will resume the operation after pause," Erdogan said.

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He agreed Thursday with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on a 20-mile safe zone south of the Turkish border in Syria through Tuesday.

Erdogan added the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- which were under protection of Russia -- were present at some areas of Turkey's counter-terrorism operation.

"We will discuss the issue with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. We need to find a solution."

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Turkey wants to clear northern Syria east of the Euphrates River of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, known by the acronym PKK, and its Syrian offshoot, the People's Protection Units, known as YPG. The YPG is one of the main groups in the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of fighters who oppose the Assad regime.

The PKK has been listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Despite the pause in fighting, clashes have been reported in the border town of Ras al-Ayn, which is one of the targets of Turkey's weeklong offensive against U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters. On Sunday, President Donald Trump announced the United States was removing all forces from Syria.

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The SDF told CNN that shelling by the Turkish military and the Syrian rebel proxies hit civilian areas in Ras al-Ayn, including a hospital. Five fighters were killed in the attack, SDF said.

"SDF are committed to the cease-fire, but from last night until this morning we are seeing shelling on Ras al-Ayn by the Turkish military and its mercenaries on SDF and civilian Kurdish targets, and in particular on the Ras al-Ain hospital in the city this morning," SDF Press Commander Merivan Qamishlo said.

But Turkey's Defense Ministry accused Kurdish-led fighters of carrying out 14 "attacks and harassments" the past 36 hours, mostly in Ras al-Ayn. It said the Syrian Kurdish fighters used mortars, rockets, anti-aircraft and anti-tank heavy machine guns, according to Stars & Stripes.

Turkey was "completely abiding" by the accord, the Defense Ministry said, and it was in "instantaneous coordination" with Washington.

Turkey also said it has recaptured 41 suspected Islamic State members who fled a detention camp earlier this week.

Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said 195 other suspected Islamic State members were recaptured. They would be relocated to areas controlled by Turkey in northern Syria, including Afrin and al-Bab, he said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Turkish-backed Syrian fighters have prevented a medical convoy from reaching Ras al-Ayn.

The factions closed the road ahead and behind, leaving the caravan "stuck" outside Ras al-Ayn, the organization said.

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