Syria cease-fire violations 'threaten peace talks'
Turkish foreign minister says planned negotiations in Astana could flounder before beginning due to regime attacks
By Emin Avundukluoglu and A. Humeyra Atilgan
Planned peace talks brokered by Turkey and Russia could fail if the cease-fire in Syria does not hold, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Wednesday.
He blamed forces supporting the Syrian regime -- particularly the Lebanese Hezbollah -- of violating the truce, which took effect Dec.30. Negotiations to reach a political resolution to the six-year war are due to begin in the Kazakhstan capital Astana on Jan. 23.
“If we cannot stop the increasing violations, the Astana process could fail,” Cavusoglu told the Anadolu Agency’s Editors’ Desk in Ankara.
In Washington, the State Department laid blame squarely on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces.
"Even cease-fires or cessations of hostilities that we had nothing to do with announcing, they quickly break down, because as we’ve seen in the last 24 to 36 hours, the regime takes advantage of whatever lull in the fighting there is to continue to pound the opposition," spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
"And that’s what we’re seeing again happen here," he said.
The U.S. did not help broker the cessation.
Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani demanded the Syrian regime abide by the cease-fire deal.
"Frequent violations by the regime esp #Barada valley puts #Syria ceasefire at risk. Regime must be pressured to endorse the agreement," he said via Twitter.
About the ongoing Operation Euphrates Shield offensive in northern Syria, Cavsoglu said it was "making quick advances after nearly 10 days of no air operations because of bad weather.
"Now, the Free Syrian Army, which we support on the ground, is successfully advancing in Al-Bab."
Cavusoglu was critical of U.S.-led coalition forces that he said failed to provide air support to Turkey-backed opposition forces taking part in Operation Euphrates Shield against Daesh.
The minister said the Turkish nation was asking the U.S.: "If you are not supporting us in the most significant operation, then why are you based at the Incirlik Airbase [in southern Adana province]?"
He said Washington remains crucial.
"The U.S. is an important ally; we have cooperation in almost every field," he said, adding: "However, the truth is [we are having] a 'confidence crisis' with the U.S."
Cavusoglu reiterated that the U.S. had supplied weapons to the PKK terrorist group’s Syrian affiliate, the YPG, on grounds that it was fighting against Daesh.
The YPG is the armed wing of the PYD -- the Syrian offshoot of the PKK. Only the PKK has been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S., while Turkey has all three groups in its terror list.
He criticized the U.S. for "preferring terrorist organizations over its ally [Turkey]."
The minister also said the U.S. President Barack Obama-led administration had not supported Turkey "at all" in its fight against the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO).
"The FETO leader [Fetullah Gulen] was not extradited despite Turkey’s repeated requests," Cavusoglu said.
Turkey accuses Gulen -- a resident of the U.S. state of Pennsylvania -- of organizing the July 15 defeated coup as well as a long-running campaign to overthrow the state through the infiltration of Turkish institutions, particularly the military, police, and judiciary.
Pointing to the efforts to eliminate the terror organization's activities around the world, Cavusoglu said, over 80 institutions have so far been closed down or transferred for their links to FETO.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation as well as the Asian Parliamentary Assembly and the Gulf Cooperation Council all designate FETO as a terrorist organization, the minister added.
Separately, the minister said the suspected gunman who killed 39 people at an Istanbul nightclub on New Year’s Eve had been identified and was being hunted.
*Anadolu Agency Washington Correspondent Michael Hernandez and Ankara correspondent Esra Kaymak Avci contributed to this report.