Turkey and the Syrian Ceasefire: “The ceasefire is not binding for us”

Turkey and the Syrian Ceasefire: “The ceasefire is not binding for us”

In a U.S. and Russian backed plan aimed at helping deliver aid to civilians in crisis, the Syrian government and a number of Syrian opposition forces have agreed to a trial 2-week ceasefire. The ceasefire is to go into effect at midnight on Saturday February 27, and armed groups who wish to participate in the ceasefire plan are expected to sign up by noon on Friday.

As one of the conditions of the agreement, the Syrian government has demanded that the Al-Nusra Front and ISIS be excluded from the ceasefire plan, and with Russian support, the Syrian government plans to continue its operations against the two groups.

On Wednesday, the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) announced that it would also abide by the conditions of the ceasefire. In a statement, YPG spokesperson Redur Xelil indicated that “We greatly value the ceasefire plan as YPG and, while still reserving our right to self-defense, we will completely adhere to the conditions of the ceasefire.”

The YPG has been the U.S.’s closest ally in efforts to combat ISIS in the Syrian conflict. However, YPG is also the Syrian wing of the Kurdish nationalist PKK group based in southeastern Turkey.

After a ceasefire ended between Turkey and the PKK in the summer of 2015, the armed group has since been attempting to establish autonomous regions under Kurdish self-rule in Turkey’s east. The Turkish government has been conducting a number of ongoing operations and enforcing curfews attempting to combat the PKK.

After the YPG seized an important air base close to the Turkish-Syrian border several weeks ago, the Turkish government began a series of shelling operations of YPG targets, concerned that the PKK affiliated group could establish a stronghold near the Turkish border. This move in turn strained Turkey’s diplomatic relations with their NATO ally the United States.

Following the YPGs announcement that the group would adhere to the Syrian ceasefire plan, Turkey warned that they would continue their operations against the group and that the YPG should be excluded from the ceasefire plan. Speaking with a group of mukhtars at a meeting on Wednesday, Turkish President Erdoğan stated that “It is time for our allies in Syria to recognize that we have reached a fork in the road. The PYD\YPG must be left out of the ceasefire.”

Echoing the President’s statement, Prime Minister Davutoğlu warned that “For us, YPG is a terrorist group just like ISIS and the al-Nusra Front…But let this be known; this ceasefire plan is only applicable for Syria, for armed groups within Syria. If any group threatens Turkey, and Turkish security is at stake, the ceasefire will not be binding for us.”

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