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Trump Says Cease-Fire Between Turks, Kurds Holding: Syria Update

Jordan Fabian

(Bloomberg) -- Turkey gave Kurdish fighters until late Tuesday to leave a narrow strip of territory in northeastern Syria or face becoming targets, putting aside for now its demand for the militia to withdraw from a much larger “safe zone.”

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces must exit the 120-kilometer (75-mile) area between the Syrian border towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn by 10 p.m. local time on Tuesday, a senior Turkish military official said, requesting anonymity.

Turkey still wants the Kurds to withdraw from a swath of frontier territory more than 440 km long and 32 km deep, but recognizes that won’t happen before the expiry of a 120-hour truce negotiated by the U.S. last week, said the official.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is due to travel to Sochi on Tuesday for talks with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, that might dictate what happens next. Russia wields major influence in Syria since its military intervened to swing the country’s civil war strongly in favor of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Here is a rundown of major events in Turkish local time:

Key Developments

Turkey gives Kurds until 10 p.m. local time Tuesday to leave 120-km strip of territoryKurdish-led SDF evacuates town of Ras Al AynTurkey vows to target Kurdish militia if it doesn’t withdrawTurkey denies claims by SDF that it violated cease-fire, says safe corridor created to evacuate woundedU.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Erdogan announced cease-fire deal in Ankara after marathon talks on ThursdayTrump faces Congressional rebuke for Syria pullout

Trump Says Cease-Fire Between Turks, Kurds ‘Holding’

President Donald Trump said at a meeting of his Cabinet on Monday that a cease-fire “is holding” between Turkish and Kurdish forces in northern Syria, and that the Kurds are withdrawing from areas Erdogan has demanded as a buffer zone.

Trump also said that the U.S. never committed to indefinitely back the Kurds, American allies in the fight against Islamic State. “They’re no angels, but we helped the Kurds,” the president said.

The cease-fire with the Turks expires on Tuesday, and Erdogan has said the offensive will resume if Kurdish forces haven’t withdrawn. Trump said Erdogan committed to conduct his occupation of the border area safely, and that if Turkey engages in unspecified misbehavior, the U.S. will sanction the country and enact tariffs on its exports.

Trump also said he would work something out to provide the Kurds with cash, perhaps through the involvement of a U.S. oil company. “We’ve secured the oil,” he said. It wasn’t immediately clear what he meant.

Russia Wants Talks Under Decades-Old Pact (12:45 p.m.)

Russia favors direct contacts between Turkey and Syria based on a 1998 security accord, though there are no plans for such talks during Erdogan’s visit to Sochi on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov tells reporters at news conference with Bulgarian counterpart Ekaterina Zaharieva.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Says About ‘35 Hours’ Left for Withdrawal (9:56 a.m.)

“We have 35 hours left,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a forum organized by state-run TRTWorld television in Istanbul on Monday. “If they don’t withdraw, our operation will start. This is our agreement with the U.S.”

Kurdish-Led SDF Says It Withdrew from Syrian Ras Al Ayn (6:01 p.m. Sunday)

SDF Forces started pulling back from the northern-bound city of Ras Al Ayn, according to a statement. Dozens of military vehicles were seen leaving with a medical convoy that entered the town on Sunday to transport the wounded.

Johnson, Erdogan Talk, Propose Meeting with Macron, Merkel (1:30 p.m.)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Erdogan spoke by telephone about the Syrian situation, and proposed a further meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Turkey Says Soldier Killed by Kurdish Group in Cease-Fire Breach (10:10 a.m.)

A Turkish soldier was killed and another one was wounded in an attack with anti-tank and light weapons by Kurdish YPG militants in the border town of Tal Abyad on Sunday, Turkey’s defense ministry said. The troops returned fire in self-defense, it said, adding that Turkish troops had come under 20 attacks since it paused the operation under the agreement with the U.S.

Turkey Counters Kurds’ No-Safe-Passage Claim (10:40 p.m.)

Turkey denied preventing the evacuation of wounded following claims by Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces that no safe corridor has been created.

“There has been absolutely no prevention, and coordinates that can be safely used have been completely relayed to U.S. military officials,” Turkey’s Defense Ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

A 39-vehicle convoy, mostly ambulances, “safely went in an and out of Ras al-Ayn today and evacuated the wounded,” according to the statement. “The issue is being closely coordinated with U.S. military officials.”

Erdogan Vows to Crush Kurdish Militia If They Don’t Withdraw (4:12 p.m.)

“The 120-hour pause on operations will end Tuesday night, we will continue crushing heads of terrorists if they don’t withdraw by then,” Erdogan told thousands of flag-waving supporters in the central Anatolian city of Kayseri on Saturday.

Erdogan also said he would discuss during his planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week what to do about troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who have deployed to the border after striking a deal with the Kurds.

“There are regime forces under Russian protection in parts of our operation area. We will discuss it with Putin. We’ve to find a solution,” he said.

--With assistance from Taylan Bilgic, Onur Ant, Lin Noueihed, Selcan Hacaoglu and Firat Kozok.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jordan Fabian in Washington at jfabian6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Onur Ant at oant@bloomberg.net, Alex Wayne, Bill Faries

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