Fighting continued on Friday between Turkey and Kurdish forces along a section of Syria’s northeast border, despite a US-brokered ceasefire that went into effect overnight.
A spokesman for the Kurdish-led militia alliance said the border town of Ras al-Ayn remained besieged and was being attacked by Turkey and its allied rebel forces.
“Despite the agreement to halt the fighting, [Turkish] air and artillery attacks continue to target the positions of fighters [and] civilian settlements,” Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spokesman Mustafa Bali said.
‘Civilians fired at’
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitoring group, said at least 14 civilians were killed in Turkish airstrikes and mortar fire by allied Syrian rebels on and around the village of Bab al-Kheir. Another eight SDF fighters were also killed, it said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan later disputed reports of fighting and threatened to continue a military offensive if the US-Turkey agreement failed to hold.
“If it fails, the operation… will start the minute 120 hours are over,” he said.
Washington and Ankara on Thursday agreed to the temporary truce in Turkey’s week-old offensive against Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria, who were once Washington’s ally.
Turkey says it launched the incursion to ensure a 20-mile (30-kilometer) “safe zone” along its border, which includes major Kurdish-held towns and cities.
Ankara seeks to push back the YPG, a Kurdish militia at the heart of the SDF, which it deems a terrorist group because of its links to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey.
Kurdish fighters must leave
Thursday’s deal envisions Kurdish fighters vacating a swath of border territory inside Syria, which would largely solidify the position Ankara’s forces have gained after ten days of fighting.
The SDF has said it will abide by the ceasefire along a section of the border between between Ras al-Ayn and Tal Abyad to its west, where most the fighting has taken place.
Turkey’s operation was dealt a setback when the YPG called for the support Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces, aiding their return to the northeastern border area. Russian forces backing the Assad regime have also moved into the area, potentially putting the breaks on how far Ankara can advance with its plans.
Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin are to meet at the Black Sea city of Sochi on October 22, when the 120 hour truce ends.
US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from northern Syria paved the way for Turkey’s long-threatened offensive.
Critics say the US decision amounted to abandoning loyal Kurdish allies that fought for years alongside American forces against the “Islamic State” (IS) group.
cw,mm/rt (AP, dpa, Reuters)