Date: Oct 21, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Turkey Counts Down Hours to Kurdish YPG Withdrawal
Selcan Hacaoglu and Firat Kozok, Bloomberg October 21, 2019
(Bloomberg) -- Turkey is threatening to resume its operation in northeastern Syria if Kurdish YPG militants fail to withdraw by the end of a recently negotiated 120-hour pause in hostilities.

Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have pulled back from the border town of Ras Al Ayn in the northern part of the country, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to restart the offensive if they don’t pull back by the end of a U.S.-brokered truce. Checking his watch, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday morning that they have roughly “35 hours left.”

Turkey and the Kurds have disagreed on the parameters of the truce, highlighting its fragility. The Syrian Democratic Forces has said the cease-fire was limited to the 120-kilometer (75-mile) strip between Tal Abyad and the town of Ras al-Ayn. Erdogan says the deal requires Kurdish fighters to withdraw from an area 444 kilometers long and 32 kilometers deep.

The U.S. fought with the SDF for years to defeat Islamic State but withdrew from the area as Turkey began a long-threatened offensive this month to clear a part of northeastern Syria of Kurdish militants it considers a risk to national security. Abandoned by the U.S., the Kurds made a deal with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose troops have deployed to the border with Turkey, upending old alliances and pushing the eight-year Syrian war into an unpredictable new phase.

Here is a rundown of major events in Turkish local time:

Key Developments

Kurdish-led SDF evacuates the town of Ras Al Ayn in Northern SyriaTurkey vows to crush Kurdish militia if they do not withdraw by end of truceTurkey denies claims by Kurdish-led SDF of violating cease-fire, says safe corridor has been created to evacuate woundedU.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Erdogan announced cease-fire deal in Ankara after marathon talks on ThursdayTurkish markets rally a day after the U.S.-Turkey dealTrump faces Congressional rebuke for Syria pullout

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Says About ‘35 Hours’ Left for Withdrawal (9:56 a.m.)

“We have 35 hours left,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a forum organized by state-run TRTWorld television in Istanbul on Monday. “If they don’t withdraw, our operation will start. This is our agreement with the U.S.”

Kurdish-Led SDF Says It Withdrew from Syrian Ras Al Ayn (6:01 p.m.)

SDF Forces started pulling back from the northern-bound city of Ras Al Ayn, according to a statement. Dozens of military vehicles were seen leaving with a medical convoy that entered the town on Sunday to transport the wounded.

Johnson, Erdogan Talk, Propose Meeting with Macron, Merkel (1:30 p.m.)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Erdogan spoke by telephone about the Syrian situation, and proposed a further meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Turkey Says Soldier Killed by Kurdish Group in Cease-Fire Breach (10:10 a.m.)

A Turkish soldier was killed and another one was wounded in an attack with anti-tank and light weapons by Kurdish YPG militants in the border town of Tal Abyad on Sunday, Turkey’s defense ministry said. The troops returned fire in self-defense, it said, adding that Turkish troops had come under 20 attacks since it paused the operation under the agreement with the U.S.

Turkey Counters Kurds’ No-Safe-Passage Claim (10:40 p.m.)

Turkey denied preventing the evacuation of wounded following claims by Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces that no safe corridor has been created.

“There has been absolutely no prevention, and coordinates that can be safely used have been completely relayed to U.S. military officials,” Turkey’s Defense Ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

A 39-vehicle convoy, mostly ambulances, “safely went in an and out of Ras al-Ayn today and evacuated the wounded,” according to the statement. “The issue is being closely coordinated with U.S. military officials.”

Erdogan Vows to Crush Kurdish Militia If They Don’t Withdraw (4:12 p.m.)

“The 120-hour pause on operations will end Tuesday night, we will continue crushing heads of terrorists if they don’t withdraw by then,” Erdogan told thousands of flag-waving supporters in the central Anatolian city of Kayseri on Saturday.

Erdogan also said he would discuss during his planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week what to do about troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who have deployed to the border after striking a deal with the Kurds.

“There are regime forces under Russian protection in parts of our operation area. We will discuss it with Putin. We’ve to find a solution,” he said.

--With assistance from Taylan Bilgic, Onur Ant and Lin Noueihed.

To contact the reporters on this story: Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara at [email protected];Firat Kozok in Ankara at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Onur Ant at [email protected], Shaji Mathew, Paul Abelsky