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Erdogan fires fresh threat to crush Kurdish forces

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(Xinhua/Turkish Presidential Palace)

RAS-AL-AIN, Turkey (AFP) – Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fired off a fresh warning Saturday to “crush” Kurdish forces as both sides traded accusations of violating a US-brokered truce deal in northeastern Syria.

The deal announced late Thursday is intended to halt a Turkish-led offensive against Kurdish forces launched on October 9, on condition they pull out of a “safe zone” on the Syrian side of the border.

The offensive has killed dozens of civilians, mainly on the Kurdish side, and prompted hundreds of thousands to flee their homes in the latest humanitarian crisis of Syria’s eight-year civil war.

Erdogan warned that, if the pullout does not happen, “we will start where we left off and continue to crush the terrorists’ heads.”

Turkish presidency spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Ankara had urged Washington to use its influence to ensure an orderly Kurdish pullout.

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

The top figure on the Kurdish side, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) commander Mazloum Abdi, told AFP that Turkey was blocking his forces’ withdrawal and trying to blame the deal’s collapse on the Kurds.

“The Turks are preventing the withdrawal from the Ras al-Ain area, preventing the exit of our forces, the wounded and civilians,” Abdi said in a phone interview from Syria.

Almost at the same moment, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported artillery shelling on Ras al-Ain and surrounding villages by Turkey’s Syrian proxies, the latest bombardment of the area since the truce.

Turkish troops and its Syrian rebel proxies seized part of the town of Ras al-Ain on Thursday, hitting a hospital.

On Saturday evening, an AFP reporter saw people waiting outside a hospital in the town of Qamishli further east as ambulance sirens rang out.

The Turkish defence ministry earlier blamed the SDF for not upholding the ceasefire, accusing Kurdish fighters of carrying out 14 attacks in 36 hours.

But Mazloum Abdi said the US was not doing enough to force Ankara to abide by the agreement, which was brokered by US Vice President Mike Pence.a

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