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.