ANKARA, Turkey: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday up to 1,300 Syrian Kurdish fighters have yet to vacate a northeastern Syrian area invaded by Ankara, hours before a five-day cease-fire between Turkish troops and Syrian Kurdish fighters was set to expire there.
Erdogan said up to 800 Syrian Kurdish fighters have already left under the deal that brought the pause in fighting following Turkey’s incursion and renewed threats to resume the offensive if all the Syrian Kurds don’t depart before the deadline runs out at 10:00 p.m.
The Turkish leader spoke to reporters before traveling to Russia for a high-stakes meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The pullout occurred under the terms of a U.S.-brokered deal for a 120-hour pause in fighting that expires Tuesday night, to allow Syrian Kurdish fighters to leave areas Turkey controls following its incursion into northeast Syrian to drive the fighters away from its borders.
Turkey launched the operation into northern Syria on Oct. 9, saying it aimed to push out Syrian Kurdish fighters it considers terrorists and an extension of a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey.
The move came days after President Donald Trump suddenly announced he was pulling American forces out of the area, essentially abandoning Kurdish allies in the battle against the Islamic State group and paving the way for the incursion Turkey had long promised to carry out.
Turkey seeks to establish what it calls a “safe zone” extending more than 400 kilometers (250 miles) along the Turkish-Syrian border and about 30 kilometers (19 miles) inside Syria, where it plans to resettle about 2 million of the roughly 3.6 million Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey.
“If America does not keep to its promises, our offensive will continue from where it left off, with a much greater determination,” Erdogan 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.”
Erdogan and Putin are meeting in Sochi for talks expected to focus on border areas that are currently held by Syrian government forces.
Although Turkish officials say the cease-fire agreement specifically covers a roughly 120-kilometer (75-mile) stretch between the Syrian border towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn, Erdogan has made clear he wants Turkish military presence along the full stretch of the border from the Euphrates River to Syria’s border with Iraq.
Turkey’s military said Tuesday at least 136 vehicles, carrying fighters, had left the region. It said it had recorded a total of 41 violations since the cease-fire came into effect. Kurdish officials have also accused Turkey of cease-fire violations.
Turkey’s incursion into Syria has led to an international outcry, which has in turn enraged Erdogan, who has accused his NATO allies of not standing by Turkey.
Turkey has also carried out other incursions into Syria and controls territory east of Idlib. It also has observation points inside Idlib, negotiated with Russia, to monitor a cease-fire there between the government and opposition fighters and jihadi groups.