Tensions reignite in Syria | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 11, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:50 AM, January 11, 2019

Tensions reignite in Syria

♦ Pompeo says US to pull forces, continue fight against IS

♦ Turkey says will launch Syria offensive if US delays pullout

♦ Ceasefire deal sees jihadists take over Idlib

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States will withdraw its troops from Syria while continuing the battle against IS, as Turkey warned of an offensive inside Syria if withdrawal is delayed.

Speaking at a joint news conference with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry in Cairo yesterday, Pompeo said that Washington remained a steadfast partner in the Middle East.

"President Trump's decision to withdraw our troops has been made. We will do that," the top diplomat said.

Pompeo is in Egypt as part of a Middle East tour aimed at reassuring Arab partners after President Donald Trump announced his plans to withdraw US forces from Syria.

He also met Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Ittihadeya Palace to discuss security and economic cooperation.

Pompeo arrived in Egypt after stops in Jordan and Iraq where he sought to reassure leaders that withdrawing from Syria does not mean the US is abandoning the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as IS) armed group or easing pressure on Iran.

From Egypt, Pompeo will travel to the Gulf Arab states - Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait - to press the case.

Earlier, the foreign minister of Turkey said itwill launch an offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces if the United States delays the withdrawal of its troops from the war-torn country.

"If the (pullout) is put off with ridiculous excuses like Turks are massacring Kurds, which do not reflect the reality, we will implement this decision," Mevlut Cavusoglu told NTV television.

Cavusoglu said Ankara would fight the YPG whether or not the US withdraws from Syria.             

In another development, a jihadist group dominated by Syria's former al-Qaeda affiliate yesterday sealed its grip on northern Idlib, the last major rebel bastion, in a deal ending days of fighting with rival factions.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) signed a ceasefire with what was left of a rival alliance that sees it confirm its supremacy and unites the region under a jihadist-led administration.

The jihadists' deal, a copy of which was circulated on local media outlets, brings an immediate end to the fighting between HTS and the rival National Liberation Front, which was directly backed by Turkey.

The clashes between HTS and its NLF rivals in Idlib had killed 137 people on both sides since the start of the year, most of them fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

Analyst Sam Heller said the latest development put HTS squarely in control of the Idlib region.

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