Ankara, Oct 18 (AP/UNB)— Turkey's president says his country "cannot forget" the harshly worded letter from U.S. President Donald Trump about the Turkish military offensive into Syria. But he says the mutual "love and respect" between the two leaders prevents him from keeping it on Turkey's agenda.
These are Recep Tayyip Erdogan's first comments concerning the Oct. 9 letter from Trump, in which among other things he warned Erdogan not to be a "tough guy."
Speaking to foreign journalists in Istanbul on Friday, Erdogan said that Turkey would "do what's necessary" concerning the letter "when the time comes." He did not elaborate.
Erdogan said: "President Trump's letter, which did not go hand in hand with political and diplomatic courtesy, has appeared in the media. Of course we haven't forgotten it. It would not be right for us to forget it."
Turkish troops and Turkish-backed Syrian fighters launched their offensive against Kurdish militias in Syria a week ago. That came two days after Trump suddenly announced he was withdrawing American troops from the border area.
Turkey's president say Syrian Kurdish fighters are withdrawing from parts of northeast Syria. That follows a cease-fire agreement reached between Turkey and the United States a day earlier.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul Friday that his country's defense minister confirmed that the Kurdish fighters had begun withdrawing. However, Erdogan says Turkish troops will remain in northeast Syria to monitor whether "this terror organization (is) truly leaving the area."
Erdogan and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence agreed late Thursday to a five-day cease-fire, halting Turkey's weeklong offensive against Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria.
But on Friday, Associated Press journalists, activists and a Syria war monitor group have reported continued fighting around the northeast town of Ras al-Ayn, which is part of the cease-fire agreement.
Erdogan however, denies that clashes were ongoing, saying: "I don't know where you're getting your news from. According to the news I received from my defense minister, there is no question of clashes. These are all speculation, disinformation."
The Turkish leader said he would hold further talks on northeast Syria with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week.
He said: "With these discussions, God willing we will bring peace to the area."
Activists and a Syria war monitor says the Kurdish-led force and Turkey-backed fighters are clashing on the outskirts of Ras al-Ayn, a town along the border that is part of a cease-fire agreement.
The Rojava Information Center and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported fighting in villages on the western and eastern flanks of Ras al-Ayn. The Observatory says at least five people were killed and 14 injured. The Rojava Center said its activists on the ground reported advances by Turkey-backed forces on two villages.
Other activists reported a new exodus of civilians from the villages as fighting continued. A Kurdish fighter said there were attacks near the hospital in the center of Ras al-Ayn. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.
The fighting comes despite a U.S.-brokered cease-fire that went into effect late Thursday.
A spokesman for the Syrian Kurdish forces says a border town remains besieged and is being shelled by Turkey and its allied forces, despite a cease-fire agreement.
Mervan, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said Friday his group's militiamen are not withdrawing in accordance with the cease-fire deal reached overnight because the town of Ras al-Ayn remains besieged. He says Turkey and allied fighters continue to target the town.
After hours of negotiations, the U.S. and Turkey agreed to a five-day cease-fire in Turkey's weeklong offensive against Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria, who were once Washington's ally.
When asked about pulling fighters back to vacate border areas, Mervan said: "So far there is nothing."
Mervan, who goes by his nom de guerre in accordance with the group's regulations, said: "It seems that under this deal they want to commit more massacres."
The Kurdish Red Crescent said its vehicles can't reach Ras al-Ayn to evacuate the wounded.
A member of the Syrian Kurdish force says its fighters will not pull back from border towns, asserting that an agreement with Turkey to vacate those areas "will not work."
The fighter spoke Friday while Ras al-Ayn, a town on the border, was shelled from Turkey despite the cease-fire agreement brokered overnight between the U.S. and Turkey. The Syrian Kurdish forces say they will abide by the cease-fire.
But the Kurdish fighter says the agreement — which asks them to withdraw — is an "insult" to the force. He says the Kurds will not give up their land. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
The agreement would solidify the position Turkey has gained in the offensive that began Oct. 9, and asks the Kurdish-led force to vacate a swath of land along the border.
While the Kurds call it a cease-fire, Turkey says it is a pause. The two sides disagree on the size of the cease-fire area.
Turkey's Defense Ministry says a soldier has been killed by shots fired across the border from Iran during a border patrol.
A ministry statement on Friday said the soldier was killed in the border town of Caldiran, in eastern Van province. Two other soldiers were lightly wounded, it said.
It was not immediately clear if the attack was related to Turkey's invasion of northeast Syria against Kurdish forces. Tens of thousands of people have been driven from their homes ahead of the Turkish advance.
Turkey views the Kurdish fighters as terrorists because of their links to a decades-long insurgency in the country's southeast.
Iran — like Turkey, Iraq and Syria — is home to an ethnic Kurdish population. An Iranian Kurdish militant group, also accused of links to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey, operates there.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has met with Israel's prime minister to reaffirm the countries' close ties at a time when many in Israel fear the Trump administration intends to give up on the Middle East.
In brief remarks after their meeting, Pompeo praised the "remarkable, close relationship" with Israel and said they discussed efforts to counter Iran and other challenges in the region. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Pompeo for America's "consistent support."
Netanyahu is a close ally of U.S. President Donald Trump and welcomed his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
But Trump's decision to abandon America's Syrian Kurdish allies in the face of Turkey's offensive in northern Syria, along with other recent moves, has raised concerns that Trump might not be a reliable ally.
When asked about a U.S.-brokered cease-fire on Thursday aimed at halting the fighting in Syria, Netanyahu said "we hope things will turn out for the best."
Turkey's pro-government dominated media is hailing the U.S.-Turkish cease-fire deal in northeast Syria as a victory for Turkey's president.
After hours of negotiations between Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, the two nations agreed to a five-day cease-fire in Turkey's weeklong offensive against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.
The agreement requires the Kurdish fighters to vacate a swath of territory inside Syria along the Turkish border. That arrangement would largely solidify the position Turkey has gained after ten days of fighting. The Kurds were U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State.
Yeni Safak newspaper's banner headline on Friday hailed a "Great Victory." It wrote: "Turkey got everything it wanted."
Sabah newspaper's headline read: "We won both on the field and on the (negotiating) table."
Kurdish-led forces have invited the Syrian government's military, backed by Russia, to deploy there to protect them from Turkey.
Associated Press journalists are seeing continued fighting in a Syrian town at the center of the fight between Turkey and Kurdish forces, despite a U.S.-brokered cease-fire.
Shelling and smoke could be seen around Ras al-Ayn on Friday morning, a day after Turkey and the U.S. agreed to a five-day cease-fire in Turkey's offensive.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, reports intermittent clashes in Ras al-Ayn, but relative calm elsewhere since the cease-fire.
The agreement requires the Kurdish fighters to vacate a swath of territory in Syria along the Turkish border, largely solidifying Turkey's position.
Turkish troops and Turkish-backed Syrian fighters launched their offensive a week ago, two days after U.S. President Donald Trump suddenly announced he was withdrawing American troops from the border area.
Islamabad, Oct 18 (AP/UNB)— Britain's Prince William and his wife Kate wrapped up their five-day visit to Pakistan on Friday, in which they dined with the prime minister and made an emotional tour of a cancer hospital previously visited by William's mother, the late Princess Diana. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are heading home to Britain.
The only wrinkle in their trip came Thursday evening, when severe weather caused the Royal Air Force Voyager aircraft had to abort two landing attempts in the capital, Islamabad. They were forced to return to the eastern city of Lahore, calling off their scheduled visit to the Khyber Pass region bordering Afghanistan. Britain's Press Association termed it a "pretty bad storm."
William and Kate had toured the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre on Thursday. It was started in the early 1990s by the cricket-hero-turned-politician Imran Khan, now Pakistan's prime minister, whose first wife Jemima Goldsmith was a friend of Princess Diana.
Earlier that day, the royal couple played cricket with children and members of Pakistan's cricket team at the National Cricket Academy.
According to the Press Association, William told reporters that "the whole week we've been hearing about security in Pakistan and it's really brought home to Catherine and I the importance of the relationship between the UK and Pakistan."
Britain ended its colonial rule over the Indian subcontinent in 1947 and divided it into two nations, India and Pakistan.
The royal couple also toured Pakistan's northern mountains and glaciers Wednesday, getting a look at how the South Asian country is addressing problems related to the climate change crisis.
They met with members of the non-Muslim Kalash community, who presented them with traditional coats, hats and scarves before enjoying performances of traditional dances and music by local residents.
William and Kate are strong advocates of girls' education, and their first engagement was a visit to a school for girls in the capital, followed by a tour of the nearby national park at Margalla Hills.
Cairo, Oct 18 (AP/UNB)— Sudan's largest single rebel group Friday held its first round of direct peace talks with the country's transitional government, despite an earlier boycott following a military crackdown.
The new transitional government and other rebel leaders kicked off talks Monday in South Sudan's capital, Juba, aimed at ending Sudan's years-long civil wars. The talks come in the wake of an August power-sharing agreement between the army and a pro-democracy movement following the overthrow of autocratic former president Omar al-Bashir.
The Sudan Liberation Movement-North, led by Abdel-Aziz al-Hilu, had canceled talks with the government that were scheduled for Wednesday after the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces set up a checkpoint and detained 16 people in South Kordofan Province. Three people were later released. The group said others were attacked but didn't provide details.
The Rapid Support Forces are led by Gen. Mohammed Hamadan Dagalo, a member of the Sudan's transitional Sovereign Council, who also leads the government delegation to the Juba talks.
On the resumption of talks, Ammar Amoun, head of the SLPM-North movement's delegation, told reporters late on Thursday that the government had taken "positive steps to correct earlier mistakes."
Following this week's attacks, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of the Sovereign Council, declared a nationwide cease-fire on Wednesday.
The SLPM-North had vowed earlier not to resume the talks unless the government released the detainees, withdrew from the area where they were seized, and declared a documented cease-fire.
"We asked mediators to follow-up with the government until all flaws are addressed," Amoun told reporters Thursday. "However, this should not prevent us from going back to the negotiation table."
In a three-hour meeting, the two parties discussed prospects for peace in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan provinces, where SLPM-North controls significant chunks of territory.
Achieving peace is crucial to the transitional government in Sudan. It has counted on ending the wars with rebel groups to revive the country's battered economy through slashing the military spending, which takes up much of the national budget. Transitional authorities have set a six-month deadline for making peace with the rebel groups.
Meanwhile, separate talks are being held with the Sudan Revolutionary Front, an alliance of several other rebel groups from restive western Darfur, as well as the Blue Nile and South Kordofan provinces.
SRF spokesman Osama Said told The Associated Press that he expects a deal with the government soon.
The government "has demonstrated a strong political will and understanding of issues like co-existence, citizenship and the importance of eliminating all aspects of marginalization," said Said.
Earlier, Sudanese authorities have introduced good-will signals. They dismissed death sentences against eight rebel leaders and released more than a dozen prisoners of war. They have also delayed the formation of the parliament and the appointment of provincial governors to allow time for the rebels to come on board.
Jerusalem, Oct 18 (AP/UNB) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Israel's prime minister on Friday to reaffirm the countries' close ties at a time when many in Israel fear the Trump administration intends to cut and run from the Middle East.
The meeting came a day after a U.S. delegation led by Vice President Mike Pence and Pompeo reached an agreement with Turkey to halt its week-old offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria. Turkey invaded after the U.S. moved its troops aside, abandoning the Syrian Kurdish fighters America had partnered with against the Islamic State group. Turkey views the Kurdish fighters as terrorists because of their links to an insurgency inside its borders.
Israel has strongly condemned the offensive, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning of "ethnic cleansing." Others have expressed fear that President Donald Trump's stated desire to get out of "stupid endless wars" in the Middle East makes him an unreliable ally as Israel confronts threats from Iran.
In brief remarks after their meeting, Pompeo said "the remarkable, close relationship between our two countries is as strong as it has ever been." He said they discussed ways to push back against Iran, and "efforts to jointly combat all the challenges that the world confronts here in the Middle East."
Netanyahu thanked America for its "consistent support" and said they discussed ways of making the alliance "even stronger."
When asked about the agreement to halt the fighting in northern Syria, Netanyahu said "we hope things will turn out for the best," without elaborating. Pompeo declined to comment.
Netanyahu has portrayed his close relationship with Trump as a godsend for Israel, pointing to the American president's decisions to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal and to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
But Israelis have expressed alarm over a series of recent decisions, culminating in the Syria pullout, that they fear portend an American withdrawal from the region. Trump's expressed willingness to open negotiations with Iran, which nearly resulted in talks with President Hassan Rouhani, raised fears that the U.S. would back away from tough sanctions on the Islamic republic. Trump's refusal so far to retaliate for an attack on Saudi oil facilities, which the U.S. blamed on Iran , sparked further concern.
"The United States' abandonment of the Kurds has raised great concern in Israel: Trump abandons allies without blinking and Israel is liable to be next," the popular daily Yediot Ahronot newspaper said in an article earlier this week. "The entire balance of power in the Middle East is built on a very delicate web of supports, pressures, understandings and agreements_and Trump is unraveling that web."
Rapid advances by Turkish forces this week forced the Kurds to turn to Syrian President Bashar Assad for protection, and Syrian and Russian forces have already fanned out across the vast swathes of northeastern Syria held by the Kurds. That could allow Iran, a close ally of Assad, to further expand its presence, which already stretches across the Middle East to Israel's northern frontier.
The questions about the U.S. alliance come at a sensitive time for Netanyahu, who made his relations with Trump and other top world leaders a major plank of his campaign ahead of last month's elections. The vote left him deadlocked with his main opponent, with no clear path for either to form a government.
On Wednesday, a Yediot Ahronot columnist accused Netanyahu of placing all his eggs in "Trump's basket," saying the American president has become a "flimsy crutch."
Ankara, Oct 18 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump framed the U.S.-brokered cease-fire deal with Turkey as "a great day for civilization," but its effect was largely to mitigate a foreign policy crisis widely seen to be of his own making.
After hours of negotiation in Ankara, the two nations on Thursday agreed to a five-day cease-fire in the Turks' deadly attacks on Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, but some fighting continued early Friday in a northeast Syrian border town. The Kurds were U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State group but came under assault after Trump ordered U.S. troops to leave the area earlier this month.
The agreement requires the Kurds to vacate a swath of territory in Syria along the Turkish border in an arrangement that largely solidifies Turkey's position and aims in the weeklong conflict.
Vice President Mike Pence, who reached the deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, hailed the agreement as the way to end the bloodshed caused by Turkey's invasion.
But he remained silent on whether it amounted to a second abandonment of America's former Kurdish allies, many of whom are branded as terrorists by Ankara. The deal includes a conditional halt to American economic sanctions and no apparent long-term consequences for Turkey for its actions.
Turkish troops and Turkish-backed Syrian fighters launched their offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria a week ago, two days after Trump suddenly announced he was withdrawing the U.S. military from the area.
Trump was widely criticized for turning on the Kurds, who had taken heavy casualties as partners with the U.S. in fighting IS extremists since 2016.
While U.S. officials have insisted that Trump did not authorize Turkey's invasion and only that he was not persuasive enough in making the case against it to Erdogan, the cease-fire codifies nearly all of Turkey's stated goals in the conflict.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the United States had accepted the idea of a "safe zone" long pushed by Turkey, and he insisted Turkish armed forces will control the zone. He also made clear that Turkey will not stop at a previously limited zone; he said Turkish control of the Syrian side of the border must extend all the way to the Iraqi border.
Caught in the middle, the commander of Kurdish-led forces in Syria, Mazloum Abdi, told Kurdish TV, "We will do whatever we can for the success of the cease-fire agreement." But one Kurdish official, Razan Hiddo, declared that Kurdish people would refuse to live under Turkish occupation.
Trump seemed to endorse the Turkish aim of ridding the Syrian side of the border of the Kurdish fighters. "They had to have it cleaned out," he said.
During a campaign rally in Texas on Thursday night, Trump said, "Sometimes you have to let them fight, like two kids in a lot, you got to let them fight and then you pull them apart."
In the negotiations, a senior U.S. official said, Pence and national security adviser Robert O'Brien expressed condolences to Erdogan and his military commanders over their dead and injured in the week-long campaign.
Leading U.S. lawmakers were less than pleased than Trump.
Sen. Mitt Romney, the Republicans' presidential nominee in 2012, said he welcomed the cease-fire but wanted to know what America's role in the region would be and why Turkey was facing no consequences for its invasion.
"Further, the cease-fire does not change the fact that America has abandoned an ally," he said on the Senate floor.
A senior U.S. official insisted that the agreement was negotiated in consultation with Kurdish forces, and Pence said the U.S. would "facilitate" the Kurds' pullout, but he did not say if that would include the use of American troops.
The Pentagon had no immediate comment.
As Pence was speaking in Ankara, U.S. troops were continuing to board aircraft leaving northern Syria. Officials said a couple of hundred had already departed, with hundreds more consolidated at a few bases waiting to move out.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Trump confidant who has criticized the Republican president's pullout, said he thinks U.S. troops will be needed as part of an effort to implement and enforce a halt to the fighting.
"There's just no way around it," he said. "We need to maintain control of the skies" and work with the Kurds.
While the cease-fire seemed likely to temporarily slow legislation in Congress aimed at punishing Turkey and condemning Trump's U.S. troop withdrawal, lawmakers gave no sign of completely dropping the measures.
Shortly before the announcement of the pause in hostilities, Graham and Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., introduced legislation that would bar U.S. military aid to Turkey, seek to curb foreign arms sales to Ankara and impose sanctions on top Turkish officials unless Turkey withdraws its forces. Those sanctions would include a report on Erdogan's family assets.
In contrast with Pence's description of a limited safe zone, the agreement would effectively create a zone of control patrolled by the Turkish military that Ankara wants to stretch for the entire border from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border, though the agreement did not define the extent of the zone. Turkish forces currently control about a quarter of that length, captured in the past nine days.
The rest is held by the Kurdish-led forces or by the Syrian government military, backed by Russia, which the Kurds invited to move in to shield them from the Turks. None of those parties has much reason to let Turkish forces into the areas.
But the agreement essentially gives the Turks what they had sought to achieve with their military operation in the first place.
After the Kurdish forces are cleared from the safe zone, Turkey has committed to a permanent cease-fire but is under no obligation to withdraw its troops. In addition, the deal gives Turkey relief from sanctions the administration had imposed and threatened to increase, meaning there will be no penalty for the operation.
Brett McGurk, the former civilian head of the administration's U.S.-led counter-IS campaign, wrote on Twitter that the deal was a gift to the Turks.
"The US just ratified Turkey's plan to effectively extend its border 30km into Syria with no ability to meaningfully influence facts on the ground," he wrote.
Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, tweeted, "This is a respite while we surrender to Turkish domination of Northeast Syria."
Erdogan had stated on Wednesday that he would be undeterred by U.S. sanctions. He said the fighting would end only if Kurdish fighters abandoned their weapons and retreated from positions near the Turkish border.
Before the talks, the Kurds indicated they would object to any agreement along the lines of what was announced by Pence. But Pence maintained that the U.S. had obtained "repeated assurances from them that they'll be moving out."
Trump's withdrawal of U.S. troops has been widely condemned, including by Republican officials not directly associated with his administration. Republicans and Democrats in the House, bitterly divided over the Trump impeachment inquiry, banded together Wednesday for an overwhelming 354-60 denunciation of the U.S. troop withdrawal.