International

Turkey’s Erdogan vows to ‘crush heads’ of Kurdish fighters

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says that Turkey will “crush the heads” of Kurdish fighters if they do not withdraw from a planned safe zone area in northern Syria.

Turkey agreed on Thursday to suspend an offensive for five days to allow the Kurds to retreat from the area.

But on Saturday both sides accused the other of violating the ceasefire.

Ankara views the Kurdish forces as terrorists and wants to create a “safe zone” buffer inside Syria.

Despite the temporary ceasefire, some sporadic violence has continued – particularly around the border town of Ras Al-Ain.

What did Erdogan say?

Speaking at a televised event in the central Turkish province of Kayseri on Saturday, President Erdogan said that if Kurdish fighters did not withdraw by Tuesday evening – as agreed in the ceasefire – “we will start where we left off and continue to crush the terrorists’ heads”.

The Turkish leader is due to hold talks next week with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. On Saturday he said that if those talks did not produce a solution, Turkey would “implement its own plans”.

Turkey’s defence ministry earlier accused Kurdish forces of carrying out 14 “provocative” attacks in the last 36 hours, mostly in Ras Al-Ain, but insisted Turkish forces were fully abiding by the agreement.

However, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) accused Turkey of violating the ceasefire.

Vehicles carrying the members of Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army drive near the border on October 19, 2019 in Akcakale, Turkey
Turkish-backed Syrian rebels are still active along the border

They also accuse Turkish troops of failing to create a safe corridor for the evacuation of civilians and wounded people from the besieged town.

On Saturday the SDF urged US Vice-President Mike Pence, who helped to broker the temporary ceasefire, to pressure Turkey to allow the passage of civilians.

“Despite the constant communication with the American side and the promise made by them to solve this problem, there has not been any tangible progress in this regard,” the SDF said in a statement.

Turkish presidency spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said they wanted the US to put pressure on Kurdish forces to withdraw.

“We have told our American colleagues to use their leverage, their connections, to make sure that they leave without any incidents,” he told AFP news agency.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said deliveries of humanitarian aid had been prevented from entering Ras Al-Ain.

Map showing control of north-east Syria on 16 October 2019

The monitor group said on Friday that the civilian death toll from the Turkish operation had now risen to 86.

Between 160,000 and 300,000 people have reportedly fled their homes since the offensive started 10 days ago.