A ceasefire is holding between Turkey and Kurdish militias in northern Syria, a Kurdish military official said on Tuesday, but a Syrian rebel commander characterized it only as a “pause” and added that military operations would resume soon.
Syrian rebels backed by Turkish army entered Jarablus, one of Islamic State’s last strongholds on the Turkish-Syrian border, on August 24, in Turkey’s first major U.S.-backed incursion into Syria.
The operation which is named “Euphrates Shield” aims at stopping the Kurdish YPG from seizing more territory along the border and filling the void left by ISIS and eliminating the terrorist group itself.
The truce is between the Jarablus Military Council and Turkey, said Sharfan Darwish, spokesman for the Manbij Military Council.
Both councils are allied with the Syrian Democratic Forces, a U.S.-backed alliance that consists primarily of the YPG Kurdish militias.
A subsequent statement from the Jarablus Military Council announced a temporary ceasefire “under the oversight of the international coalition led by the United States” in order to spare the people of Jarablus “the scourge of war”.
The statement added that those who had overseen the ceasefire were attempting to turn it into a permanent one.
However, in an interview with Ronahi TV, Ali Hajjo, a spokesman for the council, acknowledged the ceasefire but also pledged to regain areas taken by Turkey and its allies.
“We will not stand with our hands tied. We will liberate our areas and land from the Ottoman Turkish occupation and its factions,” he said.
However, a commander in one of the Turkish-backed Syrian rebel groups that have clashed with SDF-allied groups south of Jarablus said there was no ceasefire, only a pause in the military operation.
“There is no truce and no ceasefire. But there has been a pause for some time,” he said, adding that the operation would resume shortly.
Military operation against Kurdish militias in Syria
Turkey demanded that the YPG retreat to the east side of the Euphrates within a week. The Kurdish militia had moved west of the river earlier this month as part of a US-backed operation, now completed, to capture the city of Manbij from ISIS.
on Monday, Syrian rebels said that they are advancing towards Manbij in northern Syria.
“After seizing control of the border town of Jarablus, the FSA fighters moved under Turkish air cover to control villages such as Amarna, Yousef Beq and Ain Al Baida within hours,” a journalist said.
“But their main target is to take over Manbij,” he added. “YPG fighters maintain a significant presence along that area with their local allies.”
After seizing Jarablus, the Turkish-backed rebels have advanced up to 10 km (6 miles) south of the border town, rebel sources and a group monitoring the war said.
But hours after the YPG said it had withdrawn east of the Euphrates, Turkish state media reported that Turkish artillery had shelled YPG fighters south of Jarablus, claiming they had advanced westward.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said Kurdish-backed forces opposed by Ankara had gained up to 8 km of ground northwards, apparently seeking to pre-empt advances by the rebels.
Turkish Defence Minister Fikri Isik said preventing the Kurdish PYD party – the political arm of the YPG – from uniting Kurdish cantons east of Jarablus with those further west was a priority.
“Islamic State should be completely cleansed, this is an absolute must. But it’s not enough for us … The PYD and the YPG militia should not replace Islamic State there,” Isik told Turkish broadcaster NTV.
“The PYD’s biggest dream is to unify the western and eastern cantons. We cannot let this happen,” he said.
“If the PYD does not retreat to east of the Euphrates, we have the right to do everything about it,” the minister said.