Turkey rebuffed international pressure to curb its military offensive against Kurdish militants in Syria yesterday as US President Donald Trump dispatched his deputy Mike Pence to Ankara to demand a ceasefire.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected any negotiations, telling parliament the only way to solve Syria’s problems was for the Kurdish forces to “lay down their arms… destroy all their traps and get out of the safe zone that we have designated.”
Battles raged in the key Syrian border town of Ras al-Ain yesterday, with Kurdish fighters burning tyres in a bid to blind Ankara’s warplanes and digging in against a ground offensive by Turkish-backed Syrian rebels.
The operation, now in its second week, has triggered a flurry of diplomacy among major powers.
Trump sent Pence along with his top diplomat Mike Pompeo to Turkey amid the greatest crisis in relations for decades between the NATO allies.
Moscow has stepped into the void left by Trump’s withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria, deploying patrols to prevent clashes between Syrian and Turkish forces. Russian TV showed its forces alongside Syrian government troops taking up positions in and around the town of Manbij following the US pull-back.
The Kremlin said it would host Erdogan for a meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in the coming days, to ensure the operation does not turn into all-out war between Turkey and Syria.
Trump — facing mounting criticism in Washington over his decision to pull 1,000 troops out of the conflict zone, as well as an unrelated impeachment inquiry has hit back at Erdogan, slapping sanctions on three cabinet officials and raising tariffs on Turkish steel.