Turkish Foreign Minister Denies 'Ceasefire,' Says They Are Ready to Re-Start Syria Invasion: 'That's What We Agreed With the Americans'

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has once again warned that the break in fighting in northeastern Syria is a "pause" rather than a ceasefire, despite multiple claims by President Donald Trump to the contrary.

Speaking opening of TRT World Forum 2019 in Istanbul on Sunday, Cavusoglu warned that the "Syrian operation pause" would end unless the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces laid down their arms within 35 hours, the Anadolu news agency reported.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week agreed to a U.S.-brokered halt of its invasion of northeastern Syria, which seeks to push the SDF from a "safe zone" buffer area along the Turkish-Syrian border.

The SDF is led by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) which Ankara considers an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)—a group considered terrorists.

Turkey called on SDF forces to use the five-day delay to leave the contested area of operations, which will stretch some 20 miles into Syria and span much of the country's northern frontier. Cavusoglu said Sunday that the situation has not changed, and that his nation stands ready to resume full operations.

"There are 35 hours left," he said. "If [the YPG and PKK] do not withdraw, our operation will continue. That's what we agreed with the Americans."

SDF forces are withdrawing from the area of operations, including the border town of Ras al-Ayn which along with Tal Abyad was one of Turkey's two major initial objectives. Despite the agreement, sporadic fighting has continued throughout the combat zone.

Trump has been effusive in his praise of the "ceasefire," calling it an "incredible outcome." The president also suggested he allowed the invasion—which has killed hundreds, forced hundreds of thousands from their homes and allowed Islamic State militant prisoners to escape Kurdish detention—in order to secure a deal.

"It was unconventional, what I did," Trump told a rally in Dallas last week. "I said, they're going to have to fight a little while. Sometimes you have to let them fight a little while."

But Cavusoglu has been clear that his government does not consider the pause a real ceasefire. "This is not a ceasefire," he said last week. "We will pause the operation for 120 hours in order for the terrorists to leave. We will only stop the operation if our conditions are met."

During his appearance at the TRT World Forum, Cavusoglu also denied allegations that Turkish forces had used chemical weapons containing white phosphorus against civilians in northeastern Syria.

Multiple civilians have been treated for chemical burns consistent with the use of the incendiary weapon, which is legal for use to create smokescreens or illuminate areas at night. Cavusoglu said Turkey has never used chemical weapons and that its forces do not even possess such arms.

Turkey, ceasefire, Mevlut Cavusoglu, Syria, Kurds
Turkish soldiers drive M60 tanks through the town of Tukhar, north of Syria's northern city of Manbij, on October 14, 2019. AREF TAMMAWI/AFP via Getty Images/Getty