Russia said on Tuesday it was bewildered by a Turkish pledge to conduct a new military operation in northern Syria if the area was not cleared of people Ankara calls “terrorists”, warning any such move would damage efforts to stabilise the region.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday his country would launch a new offensive in northeast Syria if it was not cleared of the Kurdish YPG militia.
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State-owned Anadolu news agency quoted Cavusoglu as saying Russia and the United States had not done what was required under agreements that halted a Turkish offensive last month and called on both to make good on their pledges.
“Have they fulfilled whatever was necessary under the agreements? No, they have not until now but they should,” Cavusoglu said.
His comments, and Russia’s frosty reaction to them, reflect emerging tensions over Syria between Moscow and Ankara less than a month after President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan struck a deal that saw Syrian and Russian forces deploy in northeast Syria to remove YPG fighters and their weapons from the border with Turkey.
Ankara says the YPG is linked to Kurdish fighters who have waged a war inside Turkeyfor decades and killed tens of thousands of people.
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‘Escalate the situation’
Russia’s ministry of defence said on Tuesday it was puzzled by Cavusoglu’s statement on several different levels and that Moscow had carried out in full its obligations under the Putin-Erdogan deal.
“Thanks to a range of measures implemented by the Russian Federation, it was possible to significantly stabilise the situation,” Major-General Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Russian defence ministry, said in a statement.
“The head of the Turkish foreign ministry’s call for military action can only escalate the situation in northern Syria rather than sort things out in the way set out in a joint memorandum signed by the presidents of Russia and Turkey.”
Konashenkov listed areas where he thought Russia had helped bring about real progress, including quickly separating conflicting sides and conducting joint patrols with the Turkish armed forces.
Moscow is in the process of deploying more Russian military police to northeast Syria, setting up field hospitals for civilians, distributing humanitarian aid, and rebuilding infrastructure, he said.
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The Russia comments came as Turkey announced that Kurdish fighters bombed a school in northern Syria, killing three civilians and injuring eight others, including children.
The Turkish defence ministry on Tuesday accused the YPG of carrying out bombings in Tal Abyad, one of several once Kurdish-controlled towns seized by Turkey last month.
Syrian Kurdish fighters “have now targeted a school in Tal Abyad’s Curn village. Three innocent civilians died and eight civilians including children were injured,” the ministry wrote on Twitter, sharing images of the attack.
Turkey has secured a 120-km-long (70-mile-long) stretch of border land including Tal Abyad, under a deal with Russia and the United States. It hopes to resettle there some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees it hosts on its own soil.
During a speech to parliament on Tuesday, President Erdogan stressed that Turkey’s military operations would go on.
“Notably, in Syria and northern Iraq, our fight will continue until all terror threats towards our country end and the last terrorists neutralised,” he said.
Ankara wants YPG fighters to withdrawal from northeast Syria so a “safe zone” can be created to pave the way for the safe return of some two million refugees initially.
On October 22, Ankara and Moscow reached the deal under which the YPG would pull back 30km (19 miles) south of Turkey’s border with Syria and security forces from Turkey and Russia would mount joint military patrols there.