Turkey-Syria offensive: Syrian army heads north after Kurdish deal

The deal came after the US, the Kurds’ main ally, pulled troops from the area. Turkey began an offensive in the north last week, aiming to drive Kurdish forces from the border region. Areas under the control of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) came under heavy bombardment over the weekend, with Turkey making gains in two key border towns. Dozens of civilians and fighters have been killed on both sides. The US announced on Sunday it was evacuating all of its remaining soldiers from northern Syria. The Turkish offensive and US withdrawal have drawn an international outcry, as the SDF were the main allies of the West in the battle against the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria.

There have been fears about a possible resurgence of the group amid the instability. Kurdish officials said nearly 800 relatives of foreign relatives of foreign IS members had escaped from Ain Issa camp in the north of the country.

Turkey views elements of the Kurdish groups as terrorists and says it wants to drive them away from a “safe zone” reaching 32km into Syria. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hopes to resettle up to two million Syrian refugees currently in Turkey within the zone. Many of them are not Kurds and critics have warned this could lead to ethnic cleansing of the local Kurdish population.

The Kurdish-led administration in northern Syria said on Sunday it had reached an agreement for the government to deploy along the border. This deployment, it said, would assist the SDF in countering “this aggression and liberating the areas that the Turkish army and mercenaries had entered”.

In 2015 they became critical partners on the ground of the US-led multinational coalition against IS. With the help of US airpower and weaponry, the Kurds drove the jihadist group out of more than a quarter of Syria and declared the creation of a “federal system” to govern it. While the Syrian government rejected the declaration and the intervention of the US, which supported the uprising against Mr Assad, it has not sought to retake the territory.

The biggest Kurdish party has said it is not seeking independence, but insists that any political settlement to end Syria’s civil war includes guarantees for Kurdish rights and recognition of their autonomy. The Syrian government has rejected the Kurdish demands for autonomy.

The deal follows US President Donald Trump’s surprise move last week to pull dozens of troops from pockets in the north-east, effectively paving the way for the Turkish operation against the Kurdish fighters.At the time, the SDF called the move “a stab in the back”.

This article was originally published by the BBC


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