ISTANBUL: Turkey will set up a dozen observation posts across northeast Syria, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday, insisting that a planned “safe zone” will extend much further than U.S. officials said was covered under a fragile ceasefire deal.
Less than 24 hours after he agreed the five-day truce to allow Kurdish forces time to pull back from Turkey’s crossborder assault, Erdogan underlined Ankara’s continued ambition to establish a presence along 300 miles of territory inside Syria.
On the border itself shelling could be heard near the Syrian town of Ras al Ain on Friday morning despite Thursday’s deal, and a spokesman for the Kurdish-led forces said Turkey was violating the ceasefire, hitting civilian targets in the town.
But Reuters journalists at the border said the bombardment subsided around mid-morning and a U.S. official said most of the fighting had stopped, although it would “take time for things to completely quiet down”.
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he had spoken with Erdogan who told him there had been some “minor” sniper and mortar fire in northeastern Syria despite the truce, but that it had been quickly eliminated.
“He very much wants the ceasefire, or pause, to work,” Trump said in a post on Twitter. “Likewise, the Kurds want it, and the ultimate solution, to happen.”
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs described the situation at “reportedly calm in most areas, with the exception of Ras al-Ain, where shelling and gunfire continued to be reported earlier today,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York.
The truce, announced by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence after talks in Ankara with Erdogan, sets out a five-day pause to let the Kurdish-led SDF militia pull out of the Turkish “safe zone”.
The deal was aimed at easing a crisis that saw Trump order a hasty and unexpected U.S. retreat, which his critics say amounted to abandoning loyal Kurdish allies that fought for years alongside U.S. troops against Islamic State.
Turkey’s offensive created a new humanitarian crisis in Syria with 200,000 civilians taking flight, according to Red Cross estimates. It also prompted a security alert over thousands of Islamic State fighters held in Kurdish jails.