Turkey has accused Kurdish militants of violating a temporary truce in northern Syria even as a fragile ceasefire was reported to b holding.
Ankara on Thursday agreed to pause its incursion into Syria for 120 hours while the US facilitates the withdrawal of Kurdish SDF militants from a 20-mile safe zone along the Syrian-Turkish border.
Reuters journalists said on Saturday bombardment heard near the Syrian border city of Ras al Ayn had subsided and that there were just a few Turkish military vehicles crossing the frontier.
However, the Turkish Defense Ministry said Kurdish militants had been violating the ceasefire deal over the past hours using various light and heavy weaponry including rockets.
"The Turkish armed forces fully abide by the agreement," the ministry said in a statement. "Despite this, terrorists... carried out a total of 14 attacks in the last 36 hours."
It said 12 of the attacks came from Ras al-Ayn, one from the town of Tell Abyad in Raqqah Province, and another from the town of Tell Tamr in Hasakah.
Turkey was coordinating with the US "for the agreement to hold soundly and to keep the calm with exception of self-defense," it added.
Kurdish militants accuse Turkey
On Friday, the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Turkish airstrikes killed at least five civilians while sporadic clashes continued despite the ceasefire.
Mustafa Bali, a spokesperson for SDF militants, tweeted that “despite the agreement to halt the fighting, air and artillery attacks continue to target the positions of fighters, civilian settlements and the hospital in Serekaniye/Ras al-Ayn.”
“Turkey is violating the ceasefire agreement by continuing to attack the town since last night," he said.
Erdogan denied the claims as “disinformation,” and US President Donald Trump in a tweet dismissed it as “minor.”
Just spoke to President @RTErdogan of Turkey. He told me there was minor sniper and mortar fire that was quickly eliminated. He very much wants the ceasefire, or pause, to work. Likewise, the Kurds want it, and the ultimate solution, to happen. Too bad there wasn’t.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 18, 2019
Macron: Turkish operation 'crazy'
French President Emmanuel Macron also decried NATO’s inability to react to the “crazy” military campaign of Turkey - a NATO member state - in Syria.
“I consider what’s happened in the last few days (in northern Syria) to be a serious mistake by the West and NATO in the region,” he told reporters after a European Council summit in Brussels.
“It weakens our credibility in finding partners on the ground who will be by our side and who think they will be protected in the long-term. So that raises questions about how NATO functions," he added.
Turkey launched the offensive, called Operation Peace Spring, on October 9 with the aim of purging the northern Syrian regions near its border of Kurdish militants, whom it views as terrorists linked to local autonomy-seeking militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The incursion came after the US abruptly pulled its forces out of the region, clearing the path for Turkey to go ahead with a planned military action against Washington’s longtime Kurdish allies.
The developments led the Kurds to reach out to the Damascus government for support, reaching an agreement with Syrian troops to enter towns near the border with Turkey.