Turkey voices ‘serious worries’ about Syrian ceasefire
AA photoTurkey is worried about the Syrian cease-fire deal due to ongoing fighting by Russian and Syrian forces that have increased over the past day, hours before a “cessation of hostilities” agreement was set to enter into force in Syria.
“We support this cease-fire in principal,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s aide and spokesperson İbrahim Kalın said at a press conference on Feb. 26, noting that Turkey had “played an active role” in drafting the Syria cease-fire plan.
“But the fact that Russian planes’ bombardments and [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad’s forces’ attacks on the ground have been continuing – during and after the Geneva meetings and even when approaching the date of implementation for the Munich Agreement – gives us serious concerns about the future of the cease-fire,” Kalın said.
As the deadline approached, heavy air strikes were reported to have hit rebel-held areas near Damascus as fighting raged across much of western Syria.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring organization, on Feb. 26 reported at least 26 air raids and artillery shelling targeting the town of Douma in rebel-held Eastern Ghouta near Damascus, according to Reuters.
Rescue workers said five people were killed in Douma. Syrian military officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
The observatory also reported artillery bombardment by government forces and air strikes overnight in Hama province, and artillery fire by government forces in Homs province.
The U.S.-Russian “cessation of hostilities” accord, which excludes the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Nusra Front, is due to begin at midnight on Feb. 27. Warring parties had been required to accept by noon. Under the measure, which has not been signed by the Syrian warring parties themselves and is less binding than a formal cease-fire, the government and its enemies are expected to halt firing to allow aid to reach civilians and peace talks to begin.
Fighting also resumed at dawn between rebels and government forces in the northwestern province of Latakia, where the Syrian army and its allies are trying to take back more territory from rebels at the border with Turkey.
Russian warplanes continued to bomb “terrorist organizations” in Syria hours before the cease-fire goes into effect, the Kremlin said Feb. 26, denying reports it was mounting intense strikes on rebel strongholds.
“The Russian air force is certainly continuing its operation in Syria” against “terrorist organizations,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
The barrage came as the main Syrian opposition and rebel umbrella group said dozens of factions – 97 groups in all – have agreed to abide by the cease-fire. The High Negotiations Committee said a military committee had been formed to follow up on the cease-fire.
With the cease-fire due to take effect, U.S. President Barack Obama warned Damascus and key ally Moscow that the “world will be watching.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Feb. 26 said the peace process in Syria would be “complicated” but that there were no other ways of ending the conflict.
“We understand fully and take into account that this will be a complicated, and maybe even contradictory process of reconciliation, but there is no other way,” Putin said in televised comments, AFP reported.
Just a few hours before the truce deal was set to take effect, U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura was scheduled to brief the U.N. Security Council, where a U.S.-Russian joint draft resolution regarding the Syrian truce deal was expected to be voted and passed.
On Feb. 25, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States was “very sensitive” to Turkey’s concerns regarding the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the military arm of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which have caused an ongoing rift between Turkey and the U.S. over the designation of the groups.
“We need to respect Turkey’s concerns, and we will, we have, we believe,” Kerry said.
“Going forward is very important that there not be a different problem created by the short-term solution of working with the Kurds, and then that creates a longer-term challenge for all of us in the region,” he said. “So we’re working very, very carefully.”
While Turkey says the two groups are offshoots of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and thus are terrorist organizations, the U.S. designates the PKK as a terrorist organization but sees the PYD and YPG as a reliable partner in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Kalın said Turkey had no plans for a unilateral ground operation in Syria, emphasizing that Ankara would work in line with the international coalition.
“We have repeatedly said we will act in line with the coalition. So any preparations toward [a ground incursion in Syria], unilateral or with Saudi Arabia or other countries, is out of the question,” Kalın said, stressing that Turkey would respond to any threats to its national security in line with its rules of engagement.