Syrians flee with their belongings the countryside of the northeastern town of Ras Al Ain on the Turkish border, toward the west to the town of Tal Tamr on Saturday. AFP
Turkey expects the United States to keep its promises and not use stalling tactics in a deal between the Nato allies for Ankara to pause its offensive into northeastern Syria while the Kurdish fighters it is targeting withdraw, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday.
Ankara and Washington agreed on Thursday to a five-day truce in northeastern Syria to allow the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia to withdraw from a "safe zone" that Turkey aims to establish. Erdogan has said the offensive will resume if the withdrawal is not complete within the five days.
Speaking at an event in Istanbul, Erdogan said he had told the European Union countries and the US delegation with which he struck the deal that Turkey would resume the operation if the deal faltered.
Top US officials expressed confidence on Sunday that a ceasefire in northern Syria was holding despite skirmishes between Kurdish and Turkish forces.
US President Donald Trump has come under intense criticism, including from fellow Republicans, for effectively giving Turkey a green light to move against the Kurds, the staunchest US allies in the fight against Daesh group in Syria.
In a tweet, Trump quoted Defence Secretary Mark Esper as saying "the ceasefire is holding up very nicely," a view echoed by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a Sunday talk show appearance. "We're optimistic," Pompeo said on ABC's "This Week."
"There's relatively little fighting, a little sporadic small-arms fire, a mortar or two," he said.
Turkey unleashed the offensive against the Kurds Oct.9 after Trump cleared the way by ordering US troops out of the area.
Amid mounting international outrage over the offensive, Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence rushed to Turkey last week to negotiate a pause in the fighting.
Meanwhile, US troops were seen on Sunday leaving a key base in northern Syria with their equipment, apparently part of a broad US withdrawal ordered by Trump. "USA soldiers are not in combat or ceasefire zones. We have secured the Oil. Bringing soldiers home!" Trump said in his tweet.
But he remained steadfast and defended a move that drew widespread bipartisan criticism that he has endangered stability in the Middle East and risked the lives of Syrian Kurdish allies who helped the US bring down the Islamic State group in Syria.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants Syrian government forces to move out of areas near the Turkish border so he can resettle up to 2 million refugees there, his spokesman told the media Press on Saturday.
Ankara stepped up its assault on Kurdish-held border towns in northeastern Syria on Saturday, defying mounting threats of international sanctions, even from Washington.
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