Cinar Kiper And Philip Issa
ISTANBUL: An uneasy truce between Turkish troops and Kurdish-led forces in northern Syria held on Wednesday, despite Ankara’s vow that it would never negotiate with what it calls a “terror organization.”
The U.S. has called on both sides to stop fighting each other and focus on defeating the Islamic State group, hoping to halt days of clashes between a NATO ally and a Kurdish force that has proven to be highly effective against IS.
But a spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would continue to attack U.S.-backed Kurdish militias inside Syria. The spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said a cease-fire was “out of the question.”
Turkey views the Syrian Kurdish fighters as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey and is viewed as a terrorist group by Turkey and the U.S.
Washington sees the Kurds as a key partner against IS, and U.S. airstrikes have helped a Kurdish-led militia known as the Syria Democratic Forces to seize a large swath of territory from the extremists in recent months.
There were no reports of clashes between Turkey and the Kurds on Wednesday, marking the third day of calm and suggesting that the U.S. had prevailed over its two allies to keep their distance.
Meanwhile, an Islamic State suicide bomber struck Turkish-backed Syrian rebels near the border, causing casualties, according to an opposition monitoring group and an IS-run news agency.
The Islamic State group’s Aamaq news agency said the “martyrdom” attack occurred in the village of Kuliyeh, west of the Syrian border town of Jarablus, which the rebels captured from the IS last week.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on activists inside Syria, said Wednesday’s attack was carried out by a North African IS member. It said casualties were inflicted but did not give figures.
Later in the day, Turkish jets struck four buildings in Kuliyeh and nearby Zaghrah, killing some militants, Turkish military officials said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, in line with government rules, and did not provide further details.
Last week, Turkey sent troops and warplanes across the border to help Syrian rebels capture Jarablus. But then clashes broke out with the Kurds, who are dug in to the south in the town of Manbij, also recently seized from IS.
Turkey has demanded that Kurdish forces withdraw to the east of the Euphrates River, which would include a pullout from Manbij, where the Kurds took heavy casualties in months of fighting with IS over the summer.
On Tuesday, the Kurdish-backed Jarablus Military Council said it had agreed to a cease-fire with the Turkish military in a disputed area in northern Syria after lengthy consultations with the anti-IS coalition.
But Kalin, the Turkish presidential spokesman, said such a deal was “out of the question,” insisting the Kurdish Syrian militiamen will remain a target for Turkey until they move east of the Euphrates.
Vice President Joe Biden said last week during a visit to Turkey that the Kurdish forces must withdraw or risk losing U.S. support. U.S. officials have since called on both sides to stand down, fearing that the conflict could undermine efforts to battle IS.
Kalin told reporters in Ankara that Turkey will not negotiate with the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, which is the main component of the Syria Democratic Forces.
“The PYD, as the Syrian extension of the PKK, is a terror organization,” Kalin said. “It is out of the question for the Turkish Republic to have any kind of a tie, an agreement ... with this organization.”
He added that Erdogan is now engaged in a diplomatic push to secure a broader cease-fire in Syria during the upcoming three-day Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which would allow aid to reach the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo. Erdogan will discuss the issue during the G-20 summit in China, he said.
Also Wednesday, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said military operations in Syria “will continue until all terrorist elements have been neutralized, until all threats to our borders, our lands and our citizens are completely over.”
He reiterated Turkish demands that Washington live up to its assurances that the Syrian Kurdish forces would immediately withdraw to the east of the Euphrates.
The Pentagon says Kurdish forces have already moved east of the Euphrates, in compliance with Turkish and U.S. demands.
Issa reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.