Syria cease-fire violations 'threaten peace talks'

Turkish foreign minister says planned negotiations in Astana could flounder before beginning due to regime attacks

Syria cease-fire violations 'threaten peace talks'

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 came into effect on 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.

About the ongoing Operation Euphrates Shield in northern Syria, the minister 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 the U.S.-led coalition forces, which he said had 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. the question: "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 the U.S. remains an important ally.

"The U.S. is an important ally; we have cooperation in almost every field," he said, adding: "However, the truth is [that we are having] a 'confidence crisis' with the U.S."

Cavusoglu reiterated 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.

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