Erdogan threatens to expand Syria ‘safe zone’ as attacks intensify on Kurdish enclaves

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Just hours after the Russian-brokered ceasefire between Turkey and Syria’s Kurds expired on Wednesday morning, sporadic fighting resumed across northern Syria.

With the full withdrawal of Kurdish forces from the border region complete, Turkey is now mooting the further expansion of its planned ‘safe zone’ deeper into Syrian territory.

Wednesday was marked by a rash of fighting between Turkish-backed militiamen and Syrian regime forces.

Turkey agreed on October 22 to pause Operation Peace Spring against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), giving the group 150 hours to withdraw 32km from the Syria-Turkey border.

Russia announced the completion of the withdrawal on Tuesday. The ceasefire expired at 6am local time on Wednesday.

Just hours later, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he may expand his so-called ‘safe zone’ along the shared border beyond the 32km line.

The Turkish president plans to resettle millions of Syrian refugees currently hosted by Turkey inside this corridor.

“We will give a drastic response to any attack coming from outside of the safe zone [in northern Syria] and we will expand our safe zone area if needed,” he told a parliamentary meeting of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Wednesday.

In response to the Turkish operation, which began October 9, the SDF struck a deal with the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad allowing the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) to secure the border, while leaving the political autonomy of the Kurdish administration unchecked.

Shortly after Erdogan issued his new threat to expand the safe zone further south, Turkish-backed rebels attacked regime troops south of Tel Tamr – around 30km south of the Turkish border.

The people of Ras al-Ain (Sare Kani), which was recently seized by the Turkish-backed militias, had fled to Tel Tamr to escape the fighting and treat their injured. Now they have again been forced to flee.

“The situation is not good. They [Turkish-backed militia] are shelling south of Tel Tamr from 7-8km,” one man told Rudaw as he left town on his motorcycle.

Another man said the people of Tel Tamr are “terrified” of the approaching forces, and have even started moving their livestock, fearing looters.

Military vehicles belonging to regime forces were also spotted leaving the area.

Turkey is yet to comment on the clashes, but SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali confirmed the attack on Tel Tamr in a tweet.

As guarantors of the ceasefires, the US and Russia are “responsible” for the attack, Bali said.

“There is a ceasefire agreement in place which requires SDF to withdraw and Turkish army to stop aggression. Villages of Dirbasiya and Tel Temr are still being heavily attacked, even the ones in which we handed over positions to SAA,” he tweeted.

“It’s clear that Turkey has no intention of halting attacks. Russia, US are responsible for bloodshed and displacement of thousands of civilians who are now fleeing their homes in Tel Tamr,” he added in a separate tweet.

"Everything that has ever happened to us is there to make us stronger."
-John Trudell