Turkey will resume northeast Syria operation if US does not keep promises

22 October 2019, 11:24 | Updated: 28 October 2019, 15:26

Turkey's leader says up to 1,300 Syrian Kurdish fighters are still near the northeastern Syria border, despite a US-brokered truce demanding their withdrawal.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said around 800 Syrian Kurdish fighters have already left under the deal that paused fighting for five days following Turkey's incursion into northeast Syria to drive the Kurdish militiamen away from its border areas.

He renewed threats to resume fighting "with more determination" if the Syrian Kurds do not depart before the deadline at 10pm and promises given by Washington have not been kept.

Mr Erdogan's comments were made to reporters on Tuesday before he travelled to Russia to meet with President Vladimir Putin in Sochi for talks about border areas that are currently held by Syrian government forces.

"If America does not keep to its promises, our offensive will continue from where it left off, with a much greater determination," he said.

"There is no place for the (Kurdish fighters) in Syria's future. We hope that with Russia's cooperation, we will rid the region of separatist terror."

It comes after US President Donald Trump said he was "fully prepared" to use military force if "needed" against Turkey after Ankara launched an offensive against America's allies in Syria.

"We prefer peace to war," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNBC.

Last week, Mr Trump announced he was pulling US troops out of the area in what appeared to be an abandonment of Kurdish allies in the battle against the Islamic State group, paving the way for the incursion Turkey had long planned to carry out.

European Council President Donald Tusk has condemned Turkey's invasion of northern Syria and is urging Mr Erdogan to pull his troops out of the region.

Mr Tusk said that "no one is fooled by the so-called cease-fire" agreement made last week by the US and Turkey.

He added that Turkey "needs to end its military action permanently, withdraw its forces and respect international humanitarian law."

Turkey expects the Syrian Kurdish fighters to pull back from a border area.

Mr Erdogan also said on Tuesday that he may meet with the leaders of France, Germany and Britain on the sidelines of a NATO meeting in London in December to discuss Turkey's incursion into northeast Syria.

The Kremlin has since said that Turkey needs the Syrian government's permission for the deployment of its forces on Syrian territory, indicating Moscow is looking for Ankara-Damascus talks.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov emphasised that only Damascus could authorise a legitimate presence of Turkish troops in Syria.

While making his first visit to areas in Idlib province, which was recently retaken by Syrian government forces from Turkey-backed rebels, Syrian President Bashar Assad condemned Mr Erdogan as a "thief".

Images of Mr Assad standing among Syrian soldiers were shown in a Syrian state media report on Tuesday which claimed the province was a strategic southern Idlib territory.

He was quoted as saying Mr Erdogan is a "thief who robbed factories, wheat and fuel and is today stealing territory", in an apparent reference to Turkey's invasion into northeastern Syria.

Meanwhile Iraq's military has said that US troops leaving Syria and heading to Iraq do not have permission to stay in the country.

It appears the contradict US defence secretary Mark Esper's earlier statement that all US troops leaving Syria will go to western Iraq and the military will continue to conduct its operations against the Islamic State group to prevent its resurgence in the region.

"These forces do not have any approval to remain in Iraq," the Iraqi military statement said.