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Erdogan threatens to restart Syria operation after Trump insists Turkey ‘very much wants the ceasefire’

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Scattered fighting flared in northern Syria on Friday despite a ceasefire deal as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned he would resume a full-scale operation against Kurdish forces if they do not withdraw from a border “safe zone.”

US President Donald Trump said Erdogan told him there had been “minor sniper and mortar fire” in the region “that was quickly eliminated” and the Turkish leader assured him in a call that “he very much wants the ceasefire, or pause, to work.”

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Mustefa Bali, a spokesman for the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), accused Turkey, however, of violating the ceasefire deal reached during a visit to Ankara on Thursday by US Vice President Mike Pence.

“Despite the agreement to halt the fighting, air and artillery attacks continue to target the positions of fighters, civilian settlements and the hospital” in the battleground border town of Ras al-Ain in northeastern Syria, he said.

A war monitor group said 14 civilians were killed by Turkish air strikes and mortar fire by its Syrian proxies.

The deal brokered by Pence was meant to provide a five-day pause for the evacuation of Kurdish fighters from a “safe zone” Turkey wants to control along its border with Syria. Ankara considers the Kurdish forces to be “terrorists” linked to Kurdish rebels inside Turkey.

“If the promises are kept until Tuesday evening, the safe zone issue will be resolved,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul. “If it fails, the operation… will start the minute 120 hours are over.”

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The suspension of hostilities looked designed to help Turkey achieve its main territorial goals without fighting, but its Syrian proxies continued to clash with Kurdish fighters on Friday.

The 14 civilians were killed in Turkish air strikes and mortar fire by allied Syrian fighters in and around the village of Bab al-Kheir, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Britain-based war monitor said eight fighters of the SDF — the de facto army of the embattled Kurdish autonomous region — were killed in the strikes.

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Despite reports of continued fighting, Trump said “there is good will on both sides & a really good chance for success.”

– No enforcement by US troops –

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who accompanied Pence to Ankara, said in an interview with Politico published Friday that he was “confident” the violence would cease and a ceasefire would take hold.

“There’s not perfect command and control,” Pompeo said. “You always want it to happen faster, cleaner in a more straightforward way. But we have some additional reporting that’s not public that suggests that we think the path is still clear to being successful.”

Under the deal, Kurdish forces are required to withdraw from a border strip 32 kilometres (20 miles) deep, clearing the way for the “safe zone” sought by Turkey.

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The Kurdish-led SDF had said they were ready to abide by the ceasefire in border territory between Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad to the west.

Pentagon chief Mark Esper said Friday that US troops were continuing their “deliberate withdrawal” from northeast Syria.

“No US ground forces will participate in the enforcement of this safe zone, however, we will remain in communication with both Turkey and the SDF,” Esper said.

A senior Pentagon official said US forces will carry out aerial reconnaissance of the safe zone with the goal of watching over prisons holding Islamic State fighters.

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Thousands of IS fighters and their family members are held in Kurdish-run jails and camps across northern Syria.

The prospect of thousands of the world’s most radical jihadists breaking out in the chaos caused by Turkey’s invasion has caused widespread alarm.

Trump said Friday that “some” European countries, which he did not name, “are now willing, for the first time, to take the (captured IS) Fighters that came from their nations.”

“This is good news, but should have been done after WE captured them,” he said. “Anyway, big progress being made!!!!”

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The Turkish offensive was sparked by Trump’s abrupt announcement earlier this month that he was withdrawing US troops from Syria, a move which triggered fierce criticism from Democrats and also members of the president’s own Republican Party.

– ‘Complicated region’ –

Kurdish forces have put up fierce resistance in Ras al-Ain, with a network of tunnels, berms and trenches that held off the Turkish onslaught for a week.

On Friday afternoon, an AFP correspondent on the Turkish side of the border saw a big column of black smoke rise from Ras al-Ain, though it was unclear what was burning.

The Turkish military and its Syrian proxies — mostly Arab and Turkmen former rebels used as a ground force — have so far seized around 120 kilometres (70 miles) of territory along the border.

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More than 500 people have been killed on the two sides, including nearly 100 civilians, while around 300,000 have been displaced, according to the Observatory.

The SDF fought alongside US forces to defeat IS in Syria and Iraq, but Trump has argued that it was no longer the US role to ensure calm in the volatile area.

“It’s a complicated region,” Trump said Friday. “Sometimes you have to go through some pain to get a good solution.”


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Trump declares impeachment ‘dead’ — and demands apology — in late night Twitter outburst

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President Donald Trump lashed out on his favorite social media platform late Thursday evening.

Eight minutes before midnight eastern time, Trump unloaded.

Trump wrote, "Democrats must apologize to USA: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said that 'United States Ambassador Gordon Sondland did NOT link financial military assistance to a request for Ukraine to open up an investigation into former V.P. Joe Biden & his son, Hunter Biden. Ambassador Sondland did not tell us, and certainly did not tell me, about a connection between the assistance and the investigation.'”

Trump did not say why he was taking the word of a foreign official over multiple sworn testimonies from members of his own administration.

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Pelosi is ‘marrying up the facts and the law’: Ex-prosecutor says ‘bribery’ is a critical indictment of Trump

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Speaker Nancy Pelosi was masterful in using the word "bribery" to describe President Donald Trump's actions with Ukraine that are at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, according to a former federal prosecutor.

MSNBC anchor Brian Williams interviewed former Assistant U.S. Attorney Berit Berger on Thursday evening's "The Last Word."

Please expand for us on why it is significant and why is it important to label this bribery," Williams said.

"So I think Nancy Pelosi was very specific in calling this bribery for two reasons," Berger replied.

"The first is that -- unlike quid pro quo -- ribery is something that most people understand, especially people who have children," she said, with a chuckle. "We all sort of have a general understanding of that."

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Giuliani henchmen showered Republican with cash — and Trump almost made him ambassador to Ukraine: report

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Yet another bombshell report has shed new light on President Donald Trump's suspicious Ukraine policies.

"At the same time that Rudy Giuliani and his now-indicted pals were pushing for President Donald Trump to remove Amb. Marie Yovanovitch from her post in Ukraine, Trump administration officials were eyeing potential contenders to take over her job. One of the people in the mix, according to three sources familiar with the discussions, was Rep. Pete Sessions, a former Congressman who called for Yovanovitch’s firing," The Daily Beast reported Thursday night. "He is also a longtime ally of the former New York Mayor, and is believed to have taken millions of dollars from Giuliani’s indicted cronies."

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