Middle East

Fighting in Kurdish-held Syrian town despite cease-fire

CEYLANPINAR, Turkey (AP) — Associated Press journalists witnessed continued fighting Friday morning in a northeast Syrian town at the center of the fight between Turkey and Kurdish forces, despite a U.S.-brokered cease-fire that went into effect hours earlier.

Shelling and billowing smoke could be seen around Ras al-Ayn accompanied by the sound of gunfire. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, reported intermittent clashes in the Ras al-Ayn but relative calm elsewhere since Thursday night. That’s when Turkey and the U.S. agreed to a five-day cease-fire to halt the Turkish offensive against Kurdish-led forces in the region. AP journalists also reported quiet in the town of Tal Abyad.

The agreement — reached after hours of negotiations in Turkey’s capital of Ankara between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence — requires the Kurdish fighters to vacate a swath of territory in Syria along the Turkish border. That largely solidifies the position Turkey has reached in its offensive, now in its tenth day.

The fighting Friday came even after the commander of Kurdish-led forces in Syria, Mazloum Abdi, told Kurdish TV late on Thursday: “We will do whatever we can for the success of the cease-fire agreement.” But one Kurdish official, Razan Hiddo, declared that the Kurdish people would refuse to live under Turkish occupation.

Kurdish fighters have already been driven out of much — but not all — of a swath of territory that stretches about 100 kilometers (60 miles) along the middle of the Syrian-Turkish border, between Ras al-Ayn and Tal Abyad.

But Kurdish forces are still entrenched in Ras al-Ayn, where they were fiercely battling Turkish-backed Syrian fighters trying to take the town Thursday. Whether the Kurdish fighters pull out of Ras al-Ayn will likely be an early test of the accord.

Turkish troops and their allied Syrian fighters launched the offensive two days after U.S. President Donald Trump suddenly announced he was withdrawing American troops from the border area.

The Kurds were U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State but came under assault after Trump ordered U.S. troops to pull out.

Trump framed the U.S.-brokered cease-fire deal with Turkey as “a great day for civilization” but its effect was largely to mitigate a foreign policy crisis widely seen to be of his own making.

Turkey considers the Kurdish fighters terrorists because of their links to outlawed Kurdish rebels fighting inside Turkey.


Photo: In this photo taken from the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria, in Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, flames and smoke billow from a fire on a target in Ras al-Ayn, Syria, caused by shelling by Turkish forces, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and State Secretary Mike Pompeo were scheduled to arrive in Ankara Thursday and press Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to accept a ceasefire in northeast Syria. (AP Photo/Cavit Ozgul)

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