US and Turkey strike a deal on Syria but doubts remain
ISTANBUL - Despite an agreement between the United States and Turkey to establish a “security zone” in northern Syria, there is confusion about terms of the deal while Russia, the main power in the Syrian conflict, is working for a solution that would weaken Ankara’s role in the neighbouring country.
A 13-point plan, presented October 17 by US Vice-President Mike Pence after talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, calls for a 5-day suspension of Turkey’s military campaign in northern Syria, a withdrawal of Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters and the creation of a predominantly Turkey-controlled “security zone” 30km deep along the Syrian border.
Shelling and gunfire could be heard in the vicinity of the Syrian border town of Ras al-Ayn, near the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar, hours after the agreement was published. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there were Turkish air strikes on the village of Bab al-Kheir, east of Ras al-Ain on the border. The war monitor said 14 civilians were killed.
Turkey said it wants the security cordon to cover the border region from the Euphrates in the west to the border with Iraq to the east, an area of approximately 400km. Erdogan said he wants to build 12 observation posts in the zone, adding Ankara would respond if the Syrian government “makes a mistake” in the region.
Washington said the zone agreed upon in Ankara involves a much smaller area. US Syria Envoy James Jeffrey, in a reference to a 100km stretch between Ras al-Ayn and Tal Abyad, described the “central part of the north-east” of Syria as the location of the planned “security zone.”
Mazlum Abdi, commander of the YPG-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces, agreed with Jeffrey. He told a local television station that “this ceasefire covers those regions where there is now war, between [Ras al-Ayn] and Tal Abyad.”
He rejected a Turkish plan to resettle millions of Syrian refugees from Turkey in the zone. “Demographic change must not be carried out,” Abdi said, as relayed by the media office of the Kurdish autonomous government in northern Syria.
Moscow also refuses a permanent Turkish presence in northern Syria. Before a meeting between Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin, scheduled for October 22, the Kremlin’s Syria Envoy Alexander Lavrentiev said his country was “opposed to Turkish troops staying on Syrian territory permanently.”
Erdogan said he would discuss the “security zone” issue with Putin.