Turkey denies truce with Kurdish forces in northern Syria

Headache for Washington

ANKARA - Turkey said Wednesday a truce with Kurdish-led forces in northern Syria was "out of the question", denying a US claim the two sides had agreed to hold fire a week into Turkey's cross-border offensive.
In an unprecedented operation, Turkey has been deploying tanks and troops in Syria to clear the border area of Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists and halt the westward advance of a US-backed Kurdish militia, which Ankara sees as a terrorist group.
The assault on the Kurdish-led forces has sparked international concern and Washington had said on Tuesday that the two sides had agreed to a ceasefire.
But Ankara dismissed this claim.
Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said a truce was "out of the question".
"They will remain our target unless they retreat east of the Euphrates," he said, repeating Turkey's demand that the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) retreat to the northeast.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Wednesday the operation would continue "until terror elements are completely neutralised and threats to our border, soil and citizens are over."
For their part, the Kurdish-backed militias said they had agreed to what US Central Command spokesman Colonel John Thomas called a "loose agreement" to stop fighting.
Ankara's bombardments of their positions appeared to have eased, with no reports of any such strikes since Monday.
Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies have kept up their fight against ISIS, whose strategist Abu Mohamed al-Adnani was killed in an air strike Tuesday claimed both by the US-led anti-ISIS coalition and Russia.
After driving Kurdish-backed fighters south away from the border town of Jarabulus wrested from ISIS last week, the Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies on Tuesday engaged ISIS fighters west of the town, Turkish media said.
Turkish warplanes later conducted air strikes against "terrorist" targets nearby, the state-run Anadolu agency said, referring to ISIS.
Meanwhile, with ISIS apparently on the back foot, Russia's military said Wednesday one of its air strikes had killed propaganda chief Adnani.
A day earlier, the Pentagon said he was targeted by US-led coalition forces.
Turkey sees the YPG as an offshoot of the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is waging a bloody insurgency against security forces in Turkey's southeast.
In the past few months, Turkey has watched in alarm as the PKK's Syrian Kurdish allies advance on the other side of the border, fearing their territorial expansion will strengthen the PKK.
However, the US-led anti-ISIS coalition has been backing the YPG with training and equipment.
Washington described weekend clashes between Turkey and the Kurdish-led forces as "unacceptable" and urged the warring parties to stop fighting each other and concentrate on combatting ISIS.
Turkish media reported that Ankara summoned the US ambassador to protest the US criticism.
A spokesman for the Turkish foreign ministry, however, said that there was only a "phone call" to the ambassador, John Bass.
Turkey's offensive has also raised concerns that Ankara could be drawn even deeper into the Syrian conflict.
Iran, a key backer of President Bashar al-Assad's regime, urged Turkey to quickly wrap up its campaign, calling it a violation of Syrian sovereignty.
Turkey has said Syria was informed in advance of the operation by Russia.
Meanwhile, the Turkish army, which lost a soldier last week to anti-tank fire, suffered further casualties.
Three Turkish soldiers were injured in a rocket attack on a tank near Jarabulus, according to Turkish television.
On Tuesday, Turkish troops and their rebel allies came under attack in ISIS-held territory to the west of Jarabulus, with the jihadists claiming to have destroyed two Turkish tanks in a missile attack.
The group also claimed to have carried out a suicide car bombing against Turkish-backed rebels in the same area and said it had killed "dozens" of Turkish soldiers and Turkish-backed rebels.
Kalin said the Jarabulus operation had killed a "myth" that the Kurdish militia was the only effective force on the ground in the fight against ISIS, adding: "The moderate Syrian opposition, if supported, could put up an effective fight."