Clashes continue in Syria despite ceasefire between Turkey, Kurds

Turkish-Kurdish clashes continue in Syria border town despite US-brokered ceasefire
3 min read
18 October, 2019
Clashes have continued between Turkish forces and Kurdish fighters in the Syrian border town of Ras al-Ain despite a US-brokered ceasefire.
Turkish forces continued to shell Ras al-Ain [Getty]

Clashes between Turkish forces and Kurdish fighters were ongoing in the Syrian border town of Ras al-Ain on Friday despite a US-brokered ceasefire halting Ankara's deadly nine-day offensive in northern Syria.

Plumes of smoke could be seen rising from the town, said an AFP journalist on the Turkish side of the border who also heard explosions and gunfire.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that five civilians were killed in a Turkish airstrike on the village of Bab al-Kheir, east of Ras al-Ain.

Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said that Turkey was violating the ceasefire.

"Despite the agreement to halt the fighting, air and artillery attacks continue to target the positions of fighters, civilian settlements and the hospital", he said.

However, there was a lull in fighting in much of the rest of northeastern Syria.

Read more: Civilians in northeast Syria wary of Turkey-US deal

Turkey announced a five-day suspension late on Thursday after a meeting between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US Vice President Mike Pence in Ankara.

Under the deal, Kurdish forces are required to withdraw from a border strip 32 kilometres deep, making up a "safe zone" sought by Turkey.

The SDF said they were ready to abide by the ceasefire in the territory from Ras al-Ain to Tal Abyad in northern Syria.

The Turkish offensive was sparked by US President Donald Trump's announcement of an American withdrawal from northern Syria, leading critics to accuse him of betraying Washington's Kurdish allies.

On Thursday evening, Trump said he allowed the two sides to fight for a few days before brokering a truce as they were like "kids in a lot".

"Like two kids in a lot, you have got to let them fight and then you pull them apart," Trump told a rally in Dallas, Texas.

"They fought for a few days and it was pretty vicious," he added, before stressing that "not one drop of American blood" had been shed.

Brett McGurk, former presidential special envoy for the anti-IS coalition, described Trump's remarks as "obscene and ignorant".

Since the offensive's launch on October 9, the Turkish military and Syrian fighters allied with Turkey seized around 120 kilometres of territory along the border.

Amnesty International said that 218 civilians have been killed on the Syrian side of the border by the Turkish operation, while 18 civilians were killed in Turkey by mortar fire from Kurdish fighters.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians were also displaced by the fighting.

Kurdish fighters put up fierce resistance in Ras al-Ain during the week-long Turkish offensive. However, Turkish-backed forces took control of half the town and the local hospital was hit, trapping patients and staff inside.

Amnesty accused Turkish forces of "serious violations and war crimes, summary killings and unlawful attacks."

There was no immediate response from Ankara, which says all possible measures have been taken to avoid civilian casualties.