GENEVA: Turkey “will not hesitate” to resume military operations in northeastern Syria if it identifies Kurdish fighters near the border, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Tuesday.
Under an agreement reached last week in the Black Sea resort of Sochi between Turkey and Russia, a 150-hour deadline was given for Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters and their weapons to be withdrawn from a zone extending 30 kilometres (18 miles) back from the Turkish border.
That deadline expired at 1500 GMT Tuesday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier on Tuesday that Ankara had been informed by Moscow that Kurdish fighters in Syria had completed their withdrawal.
“Of course we have to believe our Russian partners,” Cavusoglu told reporters in Geneva while seated next to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, ahead of a UN-backed meeting tasked with amending Syria‘s constitution.
But “we cannot trust the terrorists”, Cavusoglu added, speaking in English.
“We halted operation, in that area, in northeastern part of Syria. If we see any YPG/PKK terrorists we will not hesitate to take action to eliminate them,” he said.
Turkey’s defence ministry meanwhile said Tuesday it was investigating after its forces had captured 18 people in Syria claiming to be from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Erdogan has said Russian President Vladimir Putin had assured him that Syrian Kurdish fighters would not be allowed to stay in Syria along the Turkish border wearing “regime clothes”.
Ankara says the YPG is a terror group linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has waged a bloody campaign against the Turkish state since 1984.
The Turkish military, together with its proxies in Syria, launched an operation on October 9 to clear YPG forces from areas near its border and create a safe zone to repatriate some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.
Cavusoglu and Lavrov were also joined by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
Russia and Iran, which support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, along with opposition supporter Turkey played key roles in brokering the UN-hosted constitutional review committee.
Zarif said the committee needed the full backing of the international community because it “is the only game in town” capable of forging a political solution the eight-year Syrian conflict.