Unconfirmed reports late on October 13 said that in a deal brokered by Russia Syria’s Kurds have reached an agreement with Damascus to stave off the five-day-old Turkish offensive.
Kurdish fighters in northern Syria were reportedly set to surrender the border towns of Manbij and Kobane to Damascus, while units from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s armed forces were heading north to “confront Turkish aggression on Syrian territory”. It appears that the Kurds were forced to strike a deal with Assad because the US—which treated the Kurds that led and formed most of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as comrades-in-arms in the fight to crush Islamic State in Syria—has completely wiped its hands of them. Reports that the US was now not only pulling its forces from northeast Syria, where the Turks have made an incursion to deal with what they claim is the “terrorist” SDF, but was considering plans to withdraw the bulk of American troops from across the whole of northern Syria within days, were also prominent late on October 13.
Whether there are now clashes between Assad’s forces and those of Turkey may now depend on the next step of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He has said he wants to form a buffer zone around 30-35 kilometres deep and stretching up to 300 km along Turkey’s border with Syria, with the objectives of clearing the territory of “terrorist” Kurds who could back the Kurdish insurgency in Turkey and building homes for millions of Syrian refugees currently hosted by the Turks. Should Turkish forces push out beyond that 30-35-km limit the situation could become precarious.
Meanwhile, the Turkish assault continues to raise international alarm over a heightened risk of Islamic State militants escaping from prisons run by the Kurdish-led authorities amid the chaos of battle and as the SDF is forced to reassign manpower guarding the prisons to the battlefront. There are reports that hundreds of relatives of imprisoned Islamic State fighters have escaped from a camp, but Erdogan has claimed these reports are made up of “misinformation” designed to provoke the West.
Two Nato allies of Turkey, France and Germany, have suspended arms sales to Ankara. The UK has called for the offensive to stop but has made no move on arms sales.
Speaking on October 13, Erdogan rejected offers for mediation with the SDF and criticised his western Nato allies for standing by “a terrorist organisation”.
About 130,000 people have been displaced in Syria in the incursion so far. There are at least 60 civilian casualties in Syria and 18 dead in Turkey after counterattack SDF shelling of Turkish border towns.
The Turkish lira over the weekend continued its very gradual depreciation in the wake of the offensive going ahead, hovering just below the 5.90 mark against the dollar.
US senators who have drawn up a package of sanctions that they want imposed on Turkey will again be in the spotlight this week, but there is as yet no clear sense that American President Donald Trump will back major sanctions against Ankara or any indication that there would be enough votes in the Senate to bring about a ‘super-majority’ that could over-ride a presidential veto of a set of sanctions that have teeth.
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