Turkey denies reaching ceasefire with Kurdish forces

Minister rejects US announcement of ceasefire deal between Turkish military and Syrian partners with Kurdish YPG forces.

A Turkish minister has said that his country does “not accept” US claims that its military has reached a ceasefire deal with Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.

The statement came after US officials said that Turkish-backed Syrian rebels and Kurdish forces had agreed on a temporary pause in fighting in northern Syria.

The US has been warning the sides to focus on fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group elements there.

Turkey-backed Syria rebels advance towards Manbij

“We do not accept in any circumstances … a ‘compromise or a ceasefire reached between Turkey and Kurdish elements’,” Omer Celik, EU affairs minister, told the state-run Anadolu news agency in a live interview on Wednesday.

“The Turkish republic is a sovereign, legitimate state.”

US officials had claimed on Tuesday they received assurance that all parties involved were going to stop shooting at each other and focus on the ISIL threat.

“It is a loose agreement for at least the next couple of days and we are hoping that will solidify,” Colonel John Thomas, spokesman for the US Central Command, was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.

Thomas said Turkey and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), made up largely of Kurdish fighters from the People’s Protection Units (YPG), had opened communications with the US and between each other “with the goal of limiting hostilities”.

Thomas called the reported agreement between the two groups “encouraging”.

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The White House also praised the apparent halt in fighting between anti-ISIL forces in Syria.

“The US welcomes the overnight calm between the Turkish military and other counter-ISIL forces in Syria,” Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, said on Tuesday.

“It continues to encourage these moves as a way to prevent further hostilities and loss of life between all counter-ISIL forces operating in the area.”

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Polat Can, the YPG representative to the global anti-ISIL coalition, also said the forces had reached a truce with Turkish-backed Syrian rebels.

“We have reached a temporary ceasefire between the Jarablus Military Council and the occupying Turkish army in the Jarablus area under the supervision of the global coalition,” he said on Twitter.

“These  conflicting reports could be a further indication of mounting tension between Turkey and the US about how to deal with northern Syria,” said Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Gaziantep on the Turkish side of the Syria-Turkey border.

“We have been talking to [Free Syrian Army] factions operating on the ground. They are basically saying that as far as they are concerned there is no truce.

“They told me that they have been shelling some areas under YPG control north of Manbij.

“Their strategy basically is to continue the fight until they push YPG across the Euphrates River.”

Turkey views the YPG as a threat because of its close links to the  PKK [Sedat Suna/EPA]
Turkey views the YPG as a threat because of its close links to the PKK [Sedat Suna/EPA]

Turkish forces launched last week a two-pronged operation in the town of Jarablus inside Syria against ISIL fighters and the YPG, shelling more than a dozen targets.

The US has long been trying to avert an escalation in violence between Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army forces operating in and around Jarablus and YPG fighters in the same region.

Both sides are backed by the US in their fight against ISIL, but Turkey, a key NATO ally, views the YPG as a threat because of its close links to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which has been fighting Turkish forces for the past three decades. 

On Monday, Turkish-backed Syrian rebels said they were advancing towards Manbij, a city on the West Bank of the Euphrates, captured earlier this month by Kurdish forces.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies