With just a few hours to go until the expiration of the Turkish ultimatum against the Kurdish defense units and the Syrian Democratic Forces, while President Erdogan was meeting with Putin at the presidential palace in Sochi, the body count in Rojava kept rising.
“More than 500,000 people are [for] more than one week without water supply,” the Kurdish Red Crescent wrote in a statement on Facebook. “Since the ceasefire, we documented 21 civilian dead and 27 injured. Not counted are all those who remain under the destroyed houses, got kidnapped or executed by the allies of Turkey. In total we documented 9 casualties of health workers until now.”
With the approach of the Turkish deadline (which was 10 p.m. on Tuesday, local time), the communities tried to organize themselves, covering the Derik and Tel Temer centers with nylon tarps to prevent drone strikes. During the day, 500 Syrian government troops crossed Tel Temer on the M4 motorway to secure the road.
However, the fire hadn’t really ceased after all: according to the Kurdish agency ANF, which reported eyewitness accounts from Serekaniye (Ras al-Ain), Islamist snipers stationed on the rooftops occupied by pro-Turkish militias had been firing on passers-by, wounding two.
Operation “Peace Spring” has never stopped, and over these five days of a false truce has led to a further collapse of the autonomous administration’s ability to provide support to the people: “There are no shelters, not enough food, not enough medicines,” the Red Crescent says. “We as humanitarian aid workers cannot ensure the supply of services anymore. […] 5 hospitals and clinics are out of service, 2 hospitals in Kobane and the hospital in Tal Tamr had to evacuate […]. Until now, we have no access to the regions of Kobane and Menbij to send medicines or other supplies. After the withdrawal of hundreds of humanitarian organizations, the number of victims will increase very dramatically.”
Meanwhile, at the resort on the Black Sea, the two frenemies, the Turkish Erdogan and the Russian Putin, were dividing up Syria. It was a crucial meeting, coming right after the news (published on the Russian Kommersant website) that Moscow’s military helicopters had arrived at the former US air base in Tabqa, next to Raqqa, and after Erdogan’s statements that Ankara would resume the offensive “with even more determination” if the Kurdish fighters refused to withdraw from the border.
At the end of the marathon summit (seven hours of talks), as photos were being released of the two sitting on armchairs holding a map of Syria between them, the announcement came that an agreement had been reached. Syria’s territorial integrity would be maintained, a 32-km-wide buffer zone would be set up from Tal Abyad to Ras al Ain, Russian and Syrian troops would enter the areas to the east and west of the safe zone (as of noon on Wednesday) to ensure that the Kurdish forces would withdraw within 150 hours, the YPG/YPJ would have to leave Manbij and Tel Rifat and joint Russian-Turkish patrols would be established.
Erdogan was all smiles: he managed to save face, he got the Kurdish forces out and gained control over at least a quarter of his desired “safe zone,” over a length of 100 km, where the current status quo of Turkish occupation would be maintained. In the afternoon, the head of the Syrian Democratic Forces, Mazlum Abdi, had already confirmed in a letter to US Vice President Pence that all YPG forces had withdrawn from the “safe zone.”
However, the Syrian government troops which arrived at the behest of the Kurds have no intention of going away. On Tuesday, President Assad was very clear about the territory which is now in the hands of Turkey (according to Erdogan, measuring 2,200 square kilometers and containing 160 villages), in a speech which was entirely at cross-purposes with the Putin-negotiated deal reached later that day.
“Erdogan is a thief and is now stealing our land,” he said while visiting troops in Idlib, a northwestern Syrian province where an indirect military confrontation between Damascus and Ankara has been ongoing since April. According to Assad, Erdogan “robbed factories, wheat and fuel and is today stealing territory.” He said his regime was ready to support any group that would continue the “popular resistance” against Turkish aggression, stressing that it was not a political decision, but “a constitutional and national duty.”
On the other side of the border, the Baghdad government also had some choice words. In a statement, Prime Minister Mahdi stressed that the government “has not granted permission for US forces withdrawing from Syrian territory to remain in Iraqi territory.” This message was directly at odds with the one coming from the Pentagon, which claimed that the around 700 US troops (which were pelted with pebbles and rotten tomatoes by the people in Qamishlo, the Rojava capital, as they were retreating on Monday) would be stationed in Iraq in order to continue the anti-ISIS campaign (it was not immediately clear in what way).
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