Erdogan threatens to resume Syria offensive

Turkish President warns military offensive will resume unless Kurds complete their pullout, rejects French President’s to extend ceasefire.

ANKARA – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday renewed threats of resuming Turkey's military offensive in Syria "with greater determination" unless Kurdish fighters complete their withdrawal under a US-brokered deal.

"If the promises given to our country by the United States are not kept, we will continue our operation from where we left off with greater determination," Erdogan told reporters before departing for talks with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

Following a deal with US Vice President Mike Pence last week, Turkey announced a 120-hour suspension of the offensive from last Thursday under which Kurdish fighters were to withdraw to allow a "safe zone" to be set up along the border.

Erdogan was to meet with Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi later Tuesday as the end of the 120-hour deadline approaches.

"We will have the opportunity to discuss steps to end (Kurdish fighters') presence in regime-held areas," the Turkish leader said.

Erdogan last week said he was not bothered by the Damascus regime's presence in several regions along the Turkish border.

Erdogan also firmly rejected a call by French President Emmanuel Macron to extend the ceasefire.

"There is no such proposal that was conveyed to me from Macron. Macron is in fact talking about such things mostly with terrorists," Erdogan said, referring to a meeting between Jihane Ahmed, the spokeswoman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and the French leader.

"He preferred to communicate the terrorists' offer to us. France is not our interlocutor," Erdogan said, adding that Turkey was in touch with the United States over Syria.

Macron on Monday told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that France wanted to see an extension of the ceasefire by Turkey in northeast Syria, the Elysee Palace said in a statement.

"The president underscored the importance of prolonging the current ceasefire, and of ending the crisis by diplomatic means," the presidency said after a phone call between the two leaders.

Ankara says the YPG is a "terrorist" offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984.

The PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by Ankara, the US and the EU.

Erdogan also confirmed the withdrawal of some Kurdish fighters from the proposed safe zone he wants to extend from Jarabulus in northwestern Syria up to the Iraqi border.

"Around 700-800 have withdrawn so far," Erdogan said, adding that the remaining 1,200-1,300 would reportedly also be pulling out.

"We are pursuing it. The process will not be over without a full withdrawal," he warned.

Erdogan lashed out at Tehran after Iranian officials denounced as "unacceptable" Turkey's plans to establish military observation posts in Syria.

He recalled the strong support Turkey gave Iran during its standoff with the United States over its nuclear program, as well as Turkey's partnership with Iran and Russia to end the conflict in Syria.

"What Iran did is wrong," he said.

Erdogan said a planned meeting with Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson may happen on the sidelines of the NATO summit on December 3-4 near London to discuss his country's incursion into northeast Syria.

Germany's defense minister proposed the establishment of an internationally controlled security zone in Syria and European Council President Donald Tusk called on Erdogan to pull his troops out of the region.

Erdogan did not respond to those statements but renewed a call on European nations to support Turkey's efforts to help resettle up to 2 million Syrian refugees in a proposed "safe zone" in Syria's northeast.