Turkey and Russia on Tuesday agreed to extend the cease-fire along Turkey-Syria borders, but experts believe that a lasting peace will need further coordination efforts from all parties.
by Xinhua writers Shi Yang, Wang Jian
ANKARA, Oct. 23 (Xinhua) -- Turkey and Russia on Tuesday agreed to extend the ceasefire amid the tension in northern Syria, but experts believe that a lasting peace will need further coordination efforts from all parties.
The fresh deal gave another 150 hours to the Kurdish fighters to withdraw from the region and renewed an earlier truce Turkey struck with the United States.
The Turkey-launched Operation Peace Spring into Syria has so far resulted in a shift of power balance in northern Syria, where the U.S., Russian and Syrian government forces have been fighting for years.
OPERATION PEACE SPRING
On Oct. 9, Turkey announced the launch of Operation Peace Spring into northern Syria, following the White House's statement to withdraw the U.S. troops from there.
According to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the military operation against the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), a large part of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, and the Islamic States (IS) aimed to "prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area."
The operation was also expected to realize Turkey's long-awaiting plan to create a safe zone along the Turkey-Syria border to resettle at least 2 million Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey.
On Oct. 13, the Kurds reached a Russian-brokered deal with the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad about the entry of the Syrian army into Manbij and Ayn al-Arab, both key Kurdish-held cities in northern Syria, to confront the Turkish operation.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attend a joint news conference on the situation in Syria following their meeting in Sochi, Russia, on Oct. 22, 2019. (Sputnik via Xinhua)
The deal came after the pullout of the U.S. troops, a lapsed supporter of the Syrian Democratic Forces in the fight against the IS.
Turkey agreed Thursday with the United States on a 120-hour ceasefire in the area for the withdrawal of the Kurdish fighters, following the U.S. Treasury's decision on Oct. 14 to impose sanctions on Turkey's ministries and officials.
After the Turkey-U.S. ceasefire deal expired, Turkey and Russia announced Tuesday the decision to give another 150 hours for the Kurdish fighters to retreat.
The Turkish military move has drawn international criticism and opposition, including the European Union and the Arab League.
TURKEY'S GOALS PARTLY ACHIEVED
Turkey managed to take one step closer towards its goals by reaching the ceasefire agreement, but it is still too early to claim the success of Ankara's ambitious plans, experts said.
Turkey has only partly achieved its goals, Turkish experts said, as the Kurdish forces have yet to completely withdraw from Turkey's borders.
The ceasefire pacts with both the United States and Russia included the withdrawal of Kurdish fighters to around 30 km south of its borders, an area which can be used by Ankara to set up a safe zone to resettle the refugees.
However, some Kurdish fighters are still reportedly hiding in towns and cities bordering Turkey, which the U.S. troops and the Kurds have handed over to the Syrian and Russian forces earlier.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L, center) meets with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (R, center) in Ankara, Turkey, on Oct. 17, 2019. (Photo by Mustafa kaya/Xinhua)
Some 800 Kurdish fighters and 136 vehicles of the YPG have quit the safe zone, while 1,200-1,300 Kurdish militia troops still remain there, said Erdogan on Tuesday before his departure to Sochi for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In addition, the size of the current "safe zone" does not live up to Ankara's expectations, a military source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.
Turkey wants a buffer zone that stretches 32 km deep and 444 km wide from the east of the Euphrates to the border with Iraq, but this will include the town of Manbij actually under the control of the forces of Russia and the Syrian government.
It is also questionable whether the narrow area of "safe zone" could accommodate the vast number of refugees, said Metin Corabatir, head of the Research Center on Asylum and Migration, an Ankara-based think tank.
Photo taken on Oct. 13, 2019 from Turkey's Akcakale shows Turkish self-propelled artillery guns attacking Tal Abyad in northern Syria. (Photo by Mustafa Kaya/Xinhua)
The Turkish offensive led to power rebalance in northern Syria, experts said.
Maintaining troops in the region has become costly for the United States, which contradicts Trump's policy of saving resources for the U.S. domestic economy, a major reason for the withdrawal of U.S. army, said Sebnem Udum, associate professor at the Department of International Relations at Hacettepe University in Ankara.
Russia is glad to see the retreat of the U.S. forces and serve as a mediator replacing Washington among parties, said Leonid Savin, a Russian geopolitical analyst.
A man receives medical treatment at a hospital after wounded by the Turkish shelling in Qamishli, Syria, on Oct. 12, 2019. (Xinhua)
The parameters in the East Euphrates have now changed in favor of Russia and Iran, said Serkan Demirtas, a columnist of the Hurriyet Daily News, a leading news source for Turkey and the region.
He said that Moscow is now more decisive than Washington in Turkey's plan to create a "safe zone" in Syria.
Russia does not want to see battles between the Turkish forces and the Syrian army, but the possibility of confrontation is still there, said Mohammad Omari, a Syrian expert on international relations.
Besides, the United States will go on to "tighten the noose" on the Syrian government through complicating the political landscape in Syria and attempting to undermine the future Syrian presidential elections, said Omari, also a former Syrian government official.
Foreign intervention and the presence of foreign forces on Syrian soil, including the Turkish army, will continue to be a hurdle preventing the Syrian army from seizing all its territories, said Omari.
Photo taken from southern Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar on Oct. 10, 2019 shows smoke rising from the northern Syrian city of Ras al-Ain during an attack launched by Turkish army. (Photo by Mustafa Kaya/Xinhua)
Further coordination and efforts from all parties are still necessary to achieve a lasting and ultimate peace in northern Syria.
On Tuesday, Russia and Turkey adopted a joint memorandum on the Syrian situation after talks between Putin and Erdogan in Sochi. Moscow and Ankara have agreed to deploy Russian and Syrian forces in the zone of the Turkish operation in northern Syria starting from Wednesday, according to the Kremlim.
To achieve "lasting and long-term stabilization in Syria as a whole" is possible only subject to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country, Putin told a press conference following his talks with Erdogan.
Erdogan praised the agreement for stopping "the creation of any separatist manifestations" on the Syrian territories.
Al-Assad voiced support for the memorandum, saying the Syrian border guards are ready to enter the Syrian-Turkish border together with the Russian military police.
Syrian soldiers are seen in the town of Tall Tamr in the countryside of Hasakah province, Syria, on Oct. 15, 2019, after the Syrian government reached a deal with the Kurdish forces to counter the Turkish assault in the region. (Str/Xinhua)
According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the Turkish "Operation Peace Spring" military offensive is being stopped.
The Turkish offensive has so far resulted in the deaths of 100 civilians and displacement of 300,000 more, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The United Nations has voiced concerns over the humanitarian impact of the Turkish offensive in northern Syria, calling for protection of civilians in the affected region.
(Zheng Siyuan from Ankara, Zheng Yihan from Damascus and Yi Aijun from Istanbul also contributed to the story.)
(Video reporter: Wang Jian, Zheng Siyuan, Meng Saifu; Video editor: Zhang Xinyi)