The Turkish bombardment of rebel forces in northern Syria has been brought to a temporary end by a fragile ceasefire.
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- 1 The Turkish bombardment of rebel forces in northern Syria has been brought to a temporary end by a fragile ceasefire.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to “crush the heads” of Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria if they do not withdraw from the region before the end of a fragile ceasefire.
The Turkish bombardment of rebel forces in the area was brought to a temporary end on Saturday after Mr Erdogan held peace talks with US vice-president Mike Pence.
It established a five-day pause to allow the Kurds to flee a designated “safe zone” – an agreement that came too late for those who accused Washington of abandoning allies that had played a key role in combating Islamic State (IS).
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Mr Erdogan, who has repeatedly defended the Turkish operation and denied claims that his military forces are committing war crimes, said the Kurds must take the chance to evacuate.
He added: “If it works, it works. If not, we will continue to crush the heads of the terrorists.”
Turkey and the Kurds have already accused one another of violating the ceasefire, with the former alleged to have shelled civilian areas including the border town of Ras al Ain.
An official in Ankara said the claims were an attempt to sabotage the deal agreed with Washington.
Mr Erdogan has insisted he is behind the agreement and wants to resettle two million Syrian refugees in the safe zone, which is being touted as a 273 mile area running west to east along the border.
But he warned the Kurds: “If the promises that were made to us are not kept, we will not wait like we did before and we will continue the operation where it left off once the time we set has run out.”
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The deal between Washington and Ankara came after US President Donald Trump warned his Turkish counterpart of how his actions were being perceived in a letter urging him to halt the military offensive.
Mr Trump told him he was at risk of being viewed in history as “the devil”, with up to 300,000 civilians having fled their homes and more than 80 having been killed, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Concerns have also been raised over thousands of IS supporters who were being held by the Kurds, but who could have gotten free as a result of the Turkish assault.
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Before the ceasefire comes to an end, Mr Erdogan is planning talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He wants Syrian government forces to move out of areas near the border so that the safe zone can be created, allowing the millions of refugees Turkey has taken in over the years to return to their homeland.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad moved troops into the region after the US withdrawal following a desperate request from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, seeking protection from the Turkish assault.
Mr Erdogan is unlikely to receive any encouragement from Moscow, which is allied with President Assad and has described the Turkish offensive as “unacceptable”.