Kurds attacked by Turkish-backed fighters day after Trump boasts of 'permanent' ceasefire

Raf Sanchez
Turkish forces in the border town of Tal Abyad - AFP

Kurdish forces yesterday accused Turkish-backed fighters of violating the ceasefire in northeast Syria with a “vast” new ground offensive and pleaded with the US “to intervene immediately” to stop the assault. 

Less than 24 hours after Donald Trump boasted of establishing a "permanent" peaceful settlement in the area, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said they were under assault from Turkish-backed Syrian rebels.  

“The SDF…holds the Turkish side responsible for the deterioration of the ceasefire process and calls on the American guarantor to intervene immediately to stop this aggression against our people,” a spokesman said. 

Turkey said five of its soldiers were injured when Kurdish forces attacked near the border town of Ras al-Ain with mortars and drones. A car bomb also exploded in the Turkish-controlled town of Tal Abyad, wounding several people.

The renewed fighting undercut Mr Trump’s claim of "a major breakthrough" in northeast Syria and raised questions about his decision to retract sanctions on Turkey because it had halted its offensive. 

Mr Trump boasted of a 'permanent' ceasefire in northern Syria Credit: SHAWN THEW/EPA-EFE/REX

While Mr Trump said the US had “a very good relationship” with Turkey, several of his senior officials lashed out in frustration at Ankara. "Turkey put us all in a very terrible situation,” said Mark Esper, the US defence secretary, calling the Turkish military operation in Syria an “unwarranted invasion”. 

Mr Trump’s special envoy for Syria went further in his criticism, saying the US had seen evidence of war crimes committed by Turkish-backed rebels, and had demanded an explanation from Ankara.

“Many people fled because they’re very concerned about these Turkish-supported Syrian opposition forces, as we are. We’ve seen several incidents which we consider war crimes,” James Jeffrey, special representative for Syria, told a House of Representatives hearing.

The Syrian rebels, known as the National Army, have been accused of human rights abuses since the first days of the Turkish offensive. 

Footage has circulated in the last two weeks of Syrian rebels fighting alongside the Turkish military executing civilians at the side of the road, including Kurdish politician Hevrin Khalaf.

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels have been accused of war crimes Credit: REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

An autopsy indicated that her legs and her jaw had been broken and that she was dragged by her hair until the skin of her scalp came out, before being repeatedly shot. The National Army said it was investigating the allegations. 

In recent days, footage has appeared which seems to show rebels mutilating the corpse of a female Kurdish fighter.  

The SDF appeared to be complying with the terms of a Russian-Turkish agreement and were withdrawing their forces 20 miles from the border, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. 

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s president, said his forces would “crush” Kurdish fighters if they did not fully withdraw.  

Despite the fighting around Ras al-Ain, Russia said it believed the ceasefire deal signed by Vladimir Putin and Mr Erdoğan was holding. "We note with satisfaction that the agreements reached in Sochi are being implemented," said Sergei Vershinin, Russia’s deputy foreign minister.

Mr Erdoğan also mocked European fears over an influx of Syrian refugees from Turkey. "When we say we will open the gates, they are up in arms,” he said. “The gates will be opened when the time comes.”

Turkey currently hosts more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees and Mr Erdoğan said he would send some of them to “safe zones” in northern Syria. It is not clear if refugees would go willingly to the area now that Assad’s forces control much of the nearby territory.